Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

5 Savings Accounts That Give You Big Tax Breaks

By Christy Bieber – Updated Jul 14, 2017 at 1:54PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Certain savings accounts come with big tax breaks that help you save. Check out five key types of accounts that the government gives you generous tax incentives to invest in.

Six in 10 Americans were worried about paying for their healthcare costs in 2016, while 64% of Americans said retirement savings was a top concern, according to a Gallup poll . Concern about these costs is definitely understandable, as Americans are woefully behind on putting enough aside for retirement and healthcare costs have continued to steadily rise. 

Image Source: Getty Images.

Retirement savings.

There is a bit of good news, though: There are accounts you can use to get tax breaks to pay for healthcare expenditures, retirement, and also a college education for your kids. In fact, here are five key savings accounts you can take advantage of to get generous tax breaks. 

1. 401(k)s

A 401(k) is a defined contribution plan offered by around three quarters of employers throughout the United States. Sole proprietors with no employees except their spouse also have the option of investing in a one-participant 401(k) subject to the same rules as employer-provided plans. 

The maximum annual contribution to a 401(k) is $18,000 in 2017, or $24,000 if you are 50 or older. Some employers match all or a percentage of an employee's contributions; employer matching funds are not counted toward contribution limits. If you are married filing jointly and take the standard deduction, have a combined household income of $52,000, claim two exemptions and make an $18,000 contribution, your investment would only cost $15,573 after $2,428 in tax savings. 

2. IRAs

There are multiple types of IRAs, including IRAs reserved for self-employed individuals and small business owners. Most wage-earners, though, invest in either a traditional or Roth-IRA. A traditional IRA allows investments to be made with pre-tax funds. A Roth IRA is invested in with after-tax dollars, but if you follow rules for withdrawals, you do not pay taxes on gains when you withdraw money. 

In 2017, maximum tax-advantaged combined contributions to a Roth and a traditional IRA cannot exceed the lesser of total taxable compensation for the year or $5,500 ($6,500 for people 50 or older). However, if your household income is too high, you cannot make tax-deductible contributions to a Roth IRA at all, or to a traditional IRA if you or your spouse have a workplace retirement plan.  

If you are eligible and opt for the immediate tax breaks that come with investing in a traditional IRA, your $5,500 contribution would cost $4,625, assuming a $52,000 household income for a married couple with two exemptions who takes the standard deduction. You would benefit from $825 in tax breaks. As for a Roth IRA, tax savings come when you make withdrawals. If you start investing at 25, invest $5,500 annually for your whole career, retire at 65, are in the 25% tax bracket and earn a 7% rate of return, your Roth IRA would be worth about $1.175 million, while you'd have just over $743,000 if you'd invested in a taxable savings account instead. Your savings would be more than $430,000 greater thanks to the tax breaks of a Roth IRA. 

3. 529 accounts

A 529 account is intended to encourage savings for educational expenses. These plans are sponsored by states and educational institutions and take two forms: a prepaid tuition plan that allows you to buy units or credits at a participating college, and a college savings account that allows you to invest to cover college costs at any qualifying educational institution. 

Plan rules differ by state, but there is no annual contribution limit; instead, there is a maximum total amount that can be contributed to the account. The account's growth depends upon the performance of investments, so the balance can substantially exceed contribution limits. Money is invested with after tax-funds, though, and tax breaks come from the fact that earnings are not taxed by the federal government and, in most cases, not subject to state tax as long as the money is withdrawn to pay for tuition, room and board, and other eligible college expenses. 

If you contribute $10,000 annually for 18 years and are in the 25% tax bracket, assuming a 7% return, you could accumulate $363,790 in a 529 account vs. $303,095 in an account that does not provide similar tax benefits. That extra $60,000 could cover a lot of tuition. 

4. Health savings accounts

You can invest in a health savings account with pre-tax funds if you have a high-deductible health plan, defined as a plan with a $1,300 or greater individual deductible or a $2,600 or greater family deductible as of 2017.  Tax-free contributions of up to $3,400 per person or $6,750 per family are allowed. Those 55 and older can make catch-up contributions of an additional $1,000. Trumpcare, if passed, would double permissible HSA contributions.

Money in a HSA can be used to pay co-pays, deductibles, dental and vision bills, and many other out-of-pocket expenditures that insurance doesn't cover. Money continues to grow tax-free in a HSA, and there is no time limit for using invested funds. You can even use HSA money during retirement to pay for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D premiums and -- depending on age -- to pay premiums for long-term care insurance coverage. 

If you make an average HSA contribution of $1,300 annually for 10 years, incur $250 in average medical expenditures annually, are in the 25% federal tax bracket and earn a 7% rate of return on investments, your estimated tax savings on your contributions would be $3,250, and you would accumulate more than $15,500 in savings for future use on healthcare expenses.  

5. Flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts are offered by employers and allow employees to have a portion of their pay saved for healthcare spending. FSA contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, and the amount you elected to invest is deducted from your paycheck and credited to your account throughout the year. The federal maximum limit for FSA contributions is $2,600 as of 2017. Some employers also offer a separate dependent care FSA used to set aside pre-tax funds up to $5,000 -- or $2,500 if married filing separately -- for day care, elder care, and related qualifying expenses.

Employers may make additional contributions to an employee's FSA that do not count toward employee contribution limits. Employees must spend funds in an FSA by year's end or risk losing contributions. Individuals covered by a general-use FSA are not allowed to make pre-tax contributions to HSAs. 

If you are in the 25% tax bracket and you contribute -- and spend -- the maximum $2,600 annually, you benefit from tax savings of $849 by using a healthcare FSA, as of 2017. Potential tax savings of $1,632.50 could be realized by contributing and spending $5,000 in a dependent care FSA annually if you are in the 25% tax bracket. 

Savings for each of these accounts can add up to thousands, so there's no reason not to take advantage of all possible tax breaks when trying to save for the expenses that matter.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.