How the Rich Hide Their Money
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11 Places Where the Rich Hide Money From the IRS

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How the Rich Hide Their Money
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False Profits

Offshore tax havens used by individuals and corporations cost governments trillions of dollars annually. According to the estimates of some economists, individuals have stashed anywhere from about $8.7 trillion to $36 trillion in various tax shelters around the world. But not all of the tax reduction tactics favored by the rich necessarily involve offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. There's a variety of other places the rich hide money to lower their tax burden each year and shelter some of their income, many of which are quite straightforward. Here are some examples provided by tax, personal finance and small business experts.

Conservation Easements
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Conservation Easements

One of the best-kept secrets that wealthy people use to reduce their taxable income is called a conservation easement. "By investing in one, or taking advantage of the strategy, people can effectively reduce their adjusted gross income by 50%," says entrepreneur Brad Blazar, who has taken advantage of such easements himself. "I've made almost $200,000 in earnings disappear from my adjusted gross earnings that I would have otherwise been taxed on." The Conservation Easement Act was created to incentivize affluent landowners to conserve and protect land that they own. Landowners in the United States who donate a qualifying conservation easement to a qualified land protection organization may be eligible for a federal income tax deduction equal to the value of their donation.

Related: 15 Smart Investments to Make in 2021

Qualified Opportunity Zones
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Qualified Opportunity Zones

One of the newest approaches to sheltering income is investing capital gains in businesses in Qualified Opportunity Zones, says Phil Strazzulla, a former venture capitalist and founder of Select Software Reviews, which reviews human-resources software. Created in 2017 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, these zones are disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities across the country in need of economic development and job creation. The law offers tax benefits for those who invest in such communities. Individuals can invest capital gains into businesses in Qualified Opportunity Zones pretax as long as the investment happens within 180 days of getting the gains. "If your new investment lasts more than 10 years, you don't have to pay any taxes on any incremental gains," Strazzulla says.

Municipal Bonds
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Municipal Bonds

It may sound counterintuitive that you can protect money from being taxed by the IRS by giving it to the government, but Andrew Latham, managing editor of the site SuperMoney and senior writer on tax topics, says municipal bonds (issued by state and local governments) can serve as an effective tax shelter and are a popular way to earn tax-free income. "Governments at every level issue municipal bonds to finance large-scale projects like schools and highways. These bonds are generally safe investments with interest rates that exceed those paid by ordinary savings accounts," Latham says. But here's the key: Under most circumstances, earnings from municipal bonds are also exempt from federal income taxes. Although municipal bonds are popular with wealthy investors, they're also available to ordinary taxpayers, Latham says.

Life Insurance
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Life Insurance

Whole life insurance policies are another place the wealthy stash money, says financial adviser Adam Doran, who specializes in helping clients find ways to build sustainable, tax-advantaged wealth. "Similar to a Roth IRA, taxes have to be paid on the money prior to going into a life insurance policy. But once the money is in the policy as part of the cash value, it is tax-free, provided the policy is structured correctly," Doran says. The "contributions" or premiums on the policy are not reported to the IRS, nor are distributions when the policy owner accesses the cash value through policy loans. "These loans can serve as investment capital to purchase real estate, businesses, or anything else," he says. "They can also be a form of tax-free income in retirement, as they don't have to be paid back during the policyholder's lifetime." In addition, outstanding loans at the time of the policy owner's death are paid by the policy's death benefit, and the remainder of the death benefit goes tax-free to the named beneficiaries.

Related: 20 Ways to Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse

Donate
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Charitable Investments

One of the easiest ways to dodge some taxes is by making sizable donations to charities, says Chane Steiner, CEO of the personal finance site Crediful. "You can donate up to $100,000 directly to the charity, but you can also donate to a charity savings account," Steiner says. A charitable savings account, also known as a donor-advised fund, is similar to opening a regular checking account, but one that holds funds earmarked to be distributed to a charity at your suggestion at a later date. "These funds can be deposited into the account and act as an immediate tax write-off even if they haven't been distributed yet," Steiner says.

Related: 16 Tips for Making Tax-Deductible Charitable Donations

Off-Shore Accounts Around the World
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Offshore Accounts Around the World

Perhaps one of the most notorious ways people hide money to avoid taxes is by opening offshore accounts. These are typically in tax havens — places with little to no tax liability, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York accounting firm. Popular examples include countries in the Caribbean and Switzerland. A Financial Secrecy Index produced by the Tax Justice Network ranks Switzerland and the Cayman Islands as some of the top places for hiding private wealth. The same report estimates that $21 trillion to $32 trillion worth of private wealth is in what it calls "secrecy jurisdictions" around the world where the money is lightly or entirely untaxed.

Related: 17 Countries Where You Can Live Comfortably on Social Security

Shell Companies
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Shell Companies

Some wealthy individuals hide money by opening up shell corporations that don't have their names attached. "It can be difficult for law enforcement or tax authorities to figure out who owns the corporation, so they don't know whose money it is," Zimmelman says. "Setting up interlocking entities in different places makes it even harder. For example, a fake corporation in one country might control a trust in another country that has a bank account in yet another country."

Financial Gift Giving
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Financial Gift Giving

Financial gifts of various types can be made tax-free up to a certain level. "So sometimes people will hide funds by giving a portion of it to their children or other trusted friends or family for whom the tax burden wouldn't be as great," Zimmelman says. The U.S. federal gift tax is paid on cash or properties that individuals give to others. Currently, the law allows for gifting an individual as much as $15,000 tax free. Those gifts can be made all at once or in small increments during the course of a year. Under the law, you can give $15,000 a year to multiple individuals, meaning you could give one child $15,000, another child an additional $15,000 and other individuals, friends, or family members as much as $15,000 each, as well.

tropical beach
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Offshore Subsidiaries

Multinational corporations are among the most legendary dodgers of tax responsibilities. And one of the top ways companies, not individuals, avoid paying their full share of taxes is by registering a company or a subsidiary in the right countries. "A U.S.-based company with worldwide income would set up an offshore company in a country with a low corporate tax rate. Since the corporate tax is paid on net income, a company would shift income to a country with the lower tax rate and shift expenses to the country with higher tax rates," says Peter Greco, CPA and founder of CSI Group, which works for international and expatriate clients. According to the International Monetary Fund, corporate tax havens and similar maneuvers cost governments about $500 billion to $600 billion annually in lost corporate tax revenue. IMF estimates some multinational corporations have hundreds of offshore subsidiaries.

Related: 25 Destinations Where Your Dollar Will Go Far

199A Deductions
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199A Deductions

Creating a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, trust, or estate is another way to qualify for a substantial tax deduction not available to rank-and-file wage income earners. The 199A deduction allows those who have qualified business income from either a domestic business that's operated as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, trust, or estate to deduct as much as 20% of that income. According to the IRS, the deduction not only allows eligible taxpayers to deduct up to 20% of their qualified business income, it also allows for deducting 20% of qualified real estate investment trust dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership incomes.

Retirement Funds
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Retirement Funds

While not a technique exclusive to the very wealthy, Steiner of Crediful says squirreling away as much money as possible in a retirement fund is an effective tax shelter. "With an IRA, you can defer paying taxes on up to $5,500 per year, reducing taxes at the end of the year," Steiner says. A 401(k) allows you to defer taxes on up to $19,000 per year as of 2019. "If you go with a Roth IRA, any earnings made from investments won't be taxed."

Related: 18 Things You Should Do If You Want to Retire Early