If there's one thing most Americans can agree on, it's that paying taxes is a drag. And with millions of filers still getting used to the changes brought about by the 2018 tax code overhaul, many worry that despite their best efforts, they'll wind up owing the IRS money during tax time. If that's a concern for you, here are a few strategic moves to consider.
1. Max out your retirement plan contributions
The more money you set aside for retirement, the easier it'll be to pay your bills during your golden years. But that's not the only reason to aim to max out your retirement savings plan, or get as close as possible. The more money you put into a traditional IRA or 401(k), the more of your income you shield from taxes.
In 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA if you're under 50, or up to $7,000 if you're 50 or older. If you have access to a 401(k), the annual limits are even higher -- you can contribute up to $19,500 if you're under 50, or up to $26,000 if you're 50 or older. The money you put into the traditional version of either plan (not a Roth) goes in tax free, and your savings are a function of the tax bracket you fall into. If you max out an IRA at $6,000 this year, and you're in the 24% bracket, that's $1,440 less you'll owe the IRS.
2. Fund an HSA
If you're eligible to contribute to a health savings account, or HSA, doing so is a good way to not only earmark funds for healthcare expenses, but lower your tax burden in the process. As is the case with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, HSA contributions go in tax-free. Furthermore, those funds don't expire, and any money you choose to carry forward can be invested in the interim for tax-free growth. Furthermore, HSA withdrawals, when used for their intended purpose of covering qualified medical expenses, are tax-free as well, thereby giving you a triple tax benefit.
To fund an HSA, you must be on a high-deductible health insurance plan, defined this year as an individual deductible of $1,400 or more, or a family deductible of $2,800 or more. If you qualify for an HSA, you'll have the option to set aside up to $3,550 this year as an individual, or up to $7,100 on behalf of a family. And if you're 55 or older, you get a $1,000 catch-up in your HSA on top of the limit for which you already qualify.
3. Sell bum investments at a loss
In an ideal world, all of your investments would do well. But if you're sitting on an investment in a non-retirement savings plan that's doing poorly, dumping it at a loss is a good way to lower this year's tax bill.
Any time you sell investments at a loss, you can use that hit to offset capital gains. And if your net loss surpasses the amount of gains you take in, you can apply up to $3,000 of that leftover amount to offset ordinary income. This means if you take a $6,000 loss this year and only have $3,000 in gains, you can use your remaining $3,000 to avoid paying taxes on $3,000 of income.
4. Bunch itemized deductions for added savings
The current standard deduction is much higher than it was prior to the 2018 tax code overhaul. As such, for many taxpayers, it makes less sense to itemize than before, especially with this year's standard deduction coming in at $12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for couples filing jointly. But if you pay a lot of mortgage interest and state and local taxes, then itemizing could pay off -- especially if you're smart about consolidating other deductions into the same tax year.
It's a strategy known as bunching, and it goes like this: Rather than give, say, $2,000 to charity in 2020 and another $2,000 in 2021, try giving $4,000 to charity this year so that when you itemize, you'll have a higher amount to write off. Then, if it makes sense to do so, you can opt for the standard deduction in 2021. Bunching doesn't just work for charitable donations; you can do so with medical expenses, business expenses, and anything else that's a valid deduction on your tax return.
Owing the IRS money can be stressful. If you're concerned about underpaying your taxes, make the above moves to shield more money from the IRS -- and keep more for yourself.