Smart Year-End Tax Moves
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22 Smart Tax Moves to Make Before the End of the Year

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Smart Year-End Tax Moves
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Tick-Tock Taxes

As 2020 draws to a close, it's time to start thinking about tax moves that will help decrease your overall tax burden come April, especially since most tax deductions and credits are based on actions you take before Dec. 31. With the end of the year rapidly approaching, here are some money-saving and housekeeping moves to consider.

Related: Most and Least Tax-Friendly States for Retirees

Give to Charitable Organizations
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Give to Charitable Organizations

Donating to a charity doesn't just help a worthy cause; it provides a tax deduction for itemizers, and more so since 2018. So long as donations go to a 501(c)(3) organization, "a taxpayer can now deduct cash donations up to 60% of adjusted gross income, which is up from 50% in 2017," says Andrew Cohen, senior tax manager at Friedman, a New York accounting firm. For property donations, the deduction is limited to either 30% of your adjusted gross income when using fair market value of the property or 50% of your adjusted gross income if you're using cost basis to determine the amount of the deduction.

Related: 8 Ways to Give to Charity and Get a Tax Break

Sell Capital Assets to Take Advantage of Current Tax Rates
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Sell Capital Assets to Take Advantage of Current Tax Rates

The tax code still allows for preferential treatment on the sale of capital assets. "The maximum capital gains rate is currently 20% plus the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax," Cohen says. "Take advantage of these low rates now, as there's a possibility that the capital gains rate may increase in the years to come." The rate for most taxpayers is typically even lower, at 15%, and there are some instances when capital gain may not be taxed at all (if your taxable income is less than $78,750). The 20% tax rate on net capital gains applies to those whose income exceeds the 37% ordinary tax bracket — meaning that if you're not earning more than $306,175 a year, don't worry about it.

Consider Investing in a Qualified Opportunity Zone
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Consider Investing in a Qualified Opportunity Zone

The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 created Qualified Opportunity Zones, a program allowing taxpayers to defer payment of capital gains tax until the 2026 tax year if those gains are invested in specific "opportunity zones" that would benefit from economic development and job creation. Only the portion of the gain used to benefit the zone can be deferred, Cohen says, and the Qualified Opportunity Zone investment must be made within 180 days of the sale that generated gains. Opportunity zones exist in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and some U.S. territories.

Contribute to a SEP IRA
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Contribute to a SEP IRA

If you're self-employed, you can contribute up to $57,000 to a SEP IRA before year's end. For individuals 50 and older, that amount increases to $63,500 with the catchup deferral. "The amount of the contribution to a SEP is a reduction to income, which has an effect of reducing the taxpayer's adjusted gross income dollar for dollar by the amount of the contribution," Cohen says.

Maximize 401(k) Contributions
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Maximize 401(k) Contributions

One of the most popular and simplest ways to reduce taxable income before year's end is to max out allowable 401(k) contributions. "Of course, this will provide a boost for your retirement, but as a bonus, qualified contributions will lower your taxable income for the year," says Scott Butler, financial planner at Klauenberg Retirement Solutions in Laurel, Maryland. For 401(k), 403(b), and many 457 plans, as well as the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan, the annual contribution limit is $19,500, up from $19,000.

Related: 11 Ways to Jump-Start Your Retirement Savings If You've Been Procrastinating

Estimate Your Tax Bill Now
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Estimate Your Tax Bill Now

Rather than waiting to find out from your accountant what your tax bill might be for this year, use the IRS' withholdings estimator to estimate how much you will owe or get on your tax return. "The estimator will also give you a suggestion for your future withholdings," Butler says.

Delay Income
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Delay Income

Freelancers or independent contractors may want to consider holding off on invoicing clients for work until December. "If individuals delay any billing until December, they generally do not receive the income until January," says Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of the website Money Done Right. This would delay paying taxes on the income for another year.

Related: 11 Situations Where It's Probably a Bad Idea to Do Your Own Taxes

Tax Loss Harvesting
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Tax Loss Harvesting

If capital gains from investments are moving your gross income into a higher tax bracket, consider tax loss harvesting before the end of the tax year, says tax analyst Eileen Maki of FitSmallBusiness.com. An investment that will experience a net loss can be sold, resulting in a capital loss that offsets other capital gains during the same tax year.

Bunch Charitable Contributions
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Bunch Charitable Contributions

If you don't contribute enough to charities in one calendar year to make it worthwhile to itemize, consider making several years' worth of contributions all at once, Allec suggests. By bunching charitable contributions into one year, your itemized deductions may be more likely to exceed the standard deduction — for married filing jointly, $25,100; for single taxpayers, $12,550; and for heads of households, $18,800.

Related: 35 Reputable Charities to Help This Holiday Season

Scour Expiring Tax Provisions
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Scour Expiring Tax Provisions

Compiled by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the list of expiring tax provisions is fairly easy to interpret for non-tax professionals and good to review regularly , says George Birrell, creator of Taxhub, a virtual tax prep platform. "It can give you a lot of new ideas for future spending. It will also give you a chance to review some tax credits that you may have not taken in the past and may still be able to take," Birrell says. 

Related: Crazy-Sounding Tax Deductions That Are Actually Legit

Stock transfer
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Donate Highly Appreciated Stock to Charity in Lieu of Cash

Donating valuable stocks to charity provides two tax benefits in one. "You avoid the capital gains tax of the stock, and you get an itemized deduction for the appreciated value of the stock," Birrell says. "Just remember that this is limited to 30% of your adjusted gross income."

Related: Small Ways to Donate That Have the Biggest Impact

Max Out Health Savings Account Contributions
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Max Out Health Savings Account Contributions

If you have a qualified high deductible health plan, are not enrolled in Medicare, and are not claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return, you may contribute up to $7,100 to a health savings account as part of a joint tax return ($3,550 for single filers) to lower your taxable income. The money you put into a health savings account can be used in the current year or saved for retirement, says Ben Watson, a CPA and the CFO of DollarSprout. The key takeaway is that no matter when you use it, the contributions are tax-deductible, meaning they will reduce your federal income taxes owed.

Related: Essentials You Can Buy With an FSA Now to Keep the Money From Going to Waste

Review Your Income If You're a Small Business Owner
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Review Your Income If You're a Small Business Owner

For those who are self-employed, it's a good idea to sit down and review your business income before year-end. "Subtract your deductible expenses from your total income to find your taxable net income, and then do a projection for the final months of the year to come up with a rough idea of what you might end up owing or receiving as a refund," says Dave Du Val, chief customer advocacy officer for TaxAudit. "If it looks like you're going to owe, you can start making estimated payments now — or make higher estimated payments to make up the difference if you're currently making estimated payments."

Related: 40 Essential Tax Tips for Small-Business Owners

Minimize Income from Retirement Fund Distributions
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Minimize Income from Retirement Fund Distributions

If you're retired, take a careful look at your financial needs for the rest of the year. Then, withdraw only what you need from retirement accounts to keep your tax bracket as low as possible and minimize the amount you'll owe in taxes. "Retirement plan funds that are distributed from tax-deferred accounts, such as traditional IRAs and traditional 401(k) plans, are taxed at ordinary income tax rates, and the tax bracket you're in depends on all of your taxable income for the year," Du Val says. "This is why it makes sense to take only what you need, so that your distributions don't push you up into a higher tax bracket."

Related: 20 Valuable Tax Tips for Seniors

Take a Class
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Take a Class

Did you pay for college or school expenses this year? There may be credits available to you. The IRS provides tax credits for qualified education expenses incurred by you, your spouse, or a dependent. There are two types of tax credits available — the American Opportunity Tax Credit (for students during the first four years of higher education) and the Lifetime Learning Credit, which applies to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree courses and related expenses. Be sure to keep receipts and be on the lookout for a 1098-T form from the educational institution. "You'll need this to do your taxes when the time comes, as well as receipts for required supplies and equipment," Du Val says.

Make an Extra Mortgage Payment
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Make an Extra Mortgage Payment

If you have the free cash available, make an extra mortgage payment before the end of 2020. For instance, by making the mortgage payment that's due Jan. 1 before the end of December instead, you can include the interest payment as part of your itemized deductions for 2020's tax returns. "If you wait until the new year to pay the January payment, it will be included in next year's deductions," Watson says. "This is essentially borrowing a future deduction and using it this year, but could be helpful if you're right on the line of qualifying for other tax breaks by staying under a certain taxable income."

Install Solar Panels
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Install Solar Panels

Want to be more environmentally conscious and score a tax break in the process? Consider installing solar panels on your property before 2020 wraps up. Those who do so may be eligible for a tax credit. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows eligible consumers to earn a tax credit of up to 26% of the cost you paid to have solar panels installed on your property, says tax analyst Eileen Maki of FitSmallBusiness.com. Known as the Investment Tax Credit, the measure was an incentive provided by the government to help trigger installation of solar systems nationwide. Unfortunately, it's on track to be phased out completely by 2022 for residential customers. Review the information on the IRS website to see if you quality.

Related: 31 Tax Credits and Deductions That Could Save You Thousands

Take Required Minimum Distributions
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Take Required Minimum Distributions

Taxpayers who are 70½ and older should review the Required Minimum Distributions associated with their retirement accounts to avoid steep tax penalties, Du Val says. That penalty can be as much as 50% for those who fail to take required distributions, which are the minimum amount the IRS requires individuals to withdraw from retirement funds in a calendar year. Some of the accounts covered by this rule include IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs. Roth IRAs do not require such withdrawals until after the owner of the account has passed away.

Update Your Income Data with the Health Insurance Marketplace
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Update Your Income Data with the Health Insurance Marketplace

If you have health insurance through a state or federal marketplace, you may be getting the advance premium tax credit. The amount is based on the income estimates you made when signing up, explained Nathan Rigney, lead tax research analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block. If your income has changed throughout the year, the amount of the credit you qualify for may no longer be accurate. "To avoid having to repay the advance credit, notify the marketplace of any changes to household or income," Rigney says.

Defer Bonuses
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Defer Bonuses

Who doesn't love a bonus at year's end? But if that extra money bumps you into a higher tax bracket, the bonus may not be so wonderful. "It's common for the employee to request that the bonus not be paid out until January of the next year," Birrell says. "Doing this will essentially defer the taxes due on this bonus for a whole year." This particular approach is useful for those who might see their income decline somewhat in the year ahead.

Pay Off Lingering Medical Bills
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Pay Off Lingering Medical Bills

Have you paid a ton of out of pocket medical expenses this year? The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct qualified unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 10% of their adjusted gross income, Birrell says. Taxpayers may want to try and bundle medical expenses into one year by prepaying some expenses to maximize the benefit of this tax code provision.

Abandon Worthless Business Equipment
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Abandon Worthless Business Equipment

If you're a small business owner, consider ditching worthless equipment or property rather than selling it for a nominal loss — the IRS allows for taking an ordinary loss on your annual return rather than a capital loss. "Ordinary losses are losses from activities that the taxpayer actively engages in, such as starting a business, versus capital losses, which are generated from passive investments such as purchasing land hoping it will increase in value," Birrell says. "From a tax perspective, ordinary losses are always preferred because they can be used to offset ordinary income, which is taxed at much higher rates. Capital losses can only be used to offset capital gains, which are taxed at a max rate of 20%."