Ten Midyear Tax Moves to Make Now
Ah, summertime -- the beach, vacations, hot days and cool drinks, tax forms . . . wait, what? That's right: It's a great time to get a jump on next year's taxes.
BY KAY BELL
It's summer, the best time of the year to think about your taxes. Really.
A lot of people wait until December to start thinking about their tax bills. True, you can and should make some year-end moves by Dec. 31.
But now, halfway through the tax year, is even better for tax planning. You have a good idea of what your earnings will be. And there's still plenty of time to take steps that could cut the taxes you'll owe on that money.
So put down your putter or tennis racket. Step away from the pool. Take a quick break to check out these 10 midyear tax moves.
Then you can get back to your leisure pursuits and really enjoy them, knowing you're in better tax shape.
File your 2012 tax return
First things first. If you received an extension to file back in April, finish up your 2012 tax return now.
Sure, you have until Oct. 15 to get the forms to the Internal Revenue Service, but you don't have to wait until the last minute. Finishing up your taxes in a rush, whether in April or October, is a recipe for disaster.
At best, you could overlook a deduction or credit that could cut your tax bill. At worst, you could make a filing mistake that could undo all the tax work you got around to completing.
Adjust your withholding
Did you get a big refund? Are your work and tax circumstances about the same this year as last?
Then you probably should adjust your withholding so that you won't get a big tax refund next filing season.
Some people view tax refunds as forced savings accounts. That's not necessarily a good idea. It means Uncle Sam, not you, has control of your money for a year.
The ideal payroll withholding situation is to have just enough tax -- not too much, not too little -- withheld from your paychecks to meet your eventual annual tax bill.
In this way, you'll avoid writing the U.S. Treasury a check for tax due if you under-withheld. And if you over-withheld, you won't be waiting for a refund check.
Changing your withholding is easy. Just stop by your payroll office and submit a new W-4.
Evaluate your estimated taxes
Estimated tax payments are required if you get income that isn't subject to withholding. It's the IRS' way of ensuring that you're paying as you earn on all your income.
By making the four extra tax payments a year, you'll help ensure you don't underpay your taxes. That's important because if you owe too much at filing time, you could face a tax penalty. But you don't want to overpay your estimated taxes.
Summer's a great time to reassess your estimated tax situation. Look at what you've paid via your April and June 1040-ES filings and see whether your schedule is still on track. If not, you can adjust your upcoming September and January estimated tax payments.
Hold on to day camp receipts
Most working parents are well aware they can claim the child and dependent care credit to help cover day care expenses for the kids. But don't forget about day camp costs during the summer (if you qualify).
When school's out, day camps are a good substitute for or supplement to regular child care options. The IRS thinks so, too. It allows you to count the day camp costs toward your child care credit claim.
Remember, only day camps qualify, no overnight kiddie retreats at the lake. But if you did take advantage of this short-term child care help, hang on to those receipts so you can count them when you file your taxes next year.
Is your 2012 tax-filing material still in an unsorted stack? Straighten it out now. If the IRS has questions about your return, you'll be glad you put it in an easily accessible order.
Do the same for your 2013 taxes. It will make filing your return next year that much easier.
Your tax organization system doesn't have to be elaborate. An accordion file works wonders for many folks. But if you want a full file cabinet for your tax documents, go for it.
The key is to pick a system in which you can easily file and then find documentation such as business expense receipts, medical bills, charitable deduction substantiation and the like. And once you get it set up, stick with it.
Give to charity
Your favorite nonprofit organization will happily take your money or unwanted household items any time of the year.
In fact, summer is when many charities are struggling, as most folks tend to spend this season thinking about their own recreational wants instead of other people's needs.
So help out the charities of your choice by donating now instead of waiting until the end of the year. If you itemize, your deduction is just as valid in July as it is in December.
Just be sure to get a receipt and put it in your newly created tax-filing system. The IRS now demands documentation for every monetary charitable gift, regardless of how small or large. Without it, the IRS could disallow your deduction.
Contribute to your retirement plan
Earlier is better when it comes to your retirement plans. The sooner you contribute to your individual retirement account, either a traditional IRA or a Roth, the sooner the account starts earning money.
Don't forget your at-work account. If your employer offers a 401(k) and you haven't taken advantage, check on enrollment details. If you are already contributing, increase the amount of your contributions. This money comes out of your paycheck before taxes are calculated, meaning you'll get a small but immediate tax break on your earnings.
Plan for a 3.8% investment tax
Wealthier taxpayers face several new taxes in 2013, including the 3.8% net investment tax, which was created to help fund health care reform.
Rey Santodomingo, CFA and director of tax-managed strategies at Parametric Portfolio Associates in Seattle, says affected taxpayers – single filers with a modified adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more and joint filers making $250,000 or more – now must be even more aware of their holdings' tax efficiency.
"Evaluate your investments on an after-tax basis," he says. "Place less tax-efficient investments in tax-deferred accounts. Also look for opportunities to defer taxes even longer by employing tactics like loss harvesting."
But don't over-react.
Don't, for example, move away from dividends just because of the new tax. "It could be a case of the tax tail wagging the investment dog," Santodomingo says. "Deemphasized dividends could mean you take on added risk that might not be appropriate for your portfolio."
Make home energy improvements
Make your home more energy-efficient. It could help reduce not only your utility bills, but also what you owe the IRS.
You can make relatively easy and inexpensive upgrades, such as adding insulation or replacing leaky windows, and possibly receive a $500 tax credit on your 2013 tax return.
More extensive – and expensive – alternative energy improvements will get you bigger tax breaks. These include installing solar energy, wind power, fuel cell or geothermal systems. Eligible home energy improvements in these areas could qualify for a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost, including installation, without any cap on the credit amount.
Hire a tax professional
Whether you need a tax expert's assistance to finally file your extended 2012 return or you're looking for help in getting your 2013 tax act together, now is the time to hire a CPA.
The filing season crunch is over, meaning that all types of tax professionals have a bit more time. They are much more likely to take on new clients now than early next year.
It also gives you time to determine exactly which type of tax preparer fits your tax needs. And you'll be able to thoroughly check out the tax professional before you turn over your tax life to him or her.