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3 Moves That Will Slash Your Tax Bill This Year

By Maurie Backman – Sep 20, 2020 at 6:18AM

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Get ready to pay the IRS a lot less -- and enjoy more of your money.

No matter how much money you make, your goal should be to pay the IRS as little tax as possible. And the smarter you are about taking advantage of tax breaks, the greater your chances of that happening. Here are a few key moves to make in the coming months that will leave you with a much lower tax bill for 2020.

1. Max out your retirement plan

If you're housing your retirement savings in a Roth IRA or 401(k), you won't get an immediate tax break for making contributions. But if you have your savings in a traditional retirement plan, whether an IRA or a 401(k), the more money you put in this year, the less tax you'll pay the IRS.

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For 2020, IRA contributions max out at $6,000 if you're under 50, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. If you have a 401(k), you can put in up to $19,500 this year if you're under 50, or $26,000 if you're at least 50. Your savings, meanwhile, will be a function of the tax bracket you fall into.

Say you're in the 24% tax bracket, which means you pay that rate on your higher dollars of earnings. If you put $6,000 into a traditional IRA this year, you'll shave $1,440 off your tax bill, just like that. And of course the higher your tax bracket, the more savings you actually stand to reap.

2. Max out your health savings account

Not everyone has access to a health savings account, or HSA, but if you're on a high-deductible health insurance plan this year, then it pays to see if you're eligible -- and put in as much money as possible. Your contribution limit for 2020 will depend on whether you're funding an HSA just for yourself or on behalf of a family. If it's the former, then you can put in up to $3,550 if you're under 55, or $4,550 if you're 55 or older. If you're funding an HSA on behalf of a family, these limits increase to $7,100 and $8,100, respectively.

As is the case with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, the money you put into an HSA is income the IRS can't tax you on. You'll then have the option to use your HSA contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses, or invest the money you don't need immediately so it grows into a larger sum, just like you can invest an IRA or 401(k).

3. Sell losing investments in your stock portfolio

Your goal in buying stocks is to make money. But what if there's an investment taking up space in your portfolio that's not getting the job done? If you have specific stocks that have been underperforming, unloading them could actually save you big money on taxes.

Specifically, any loss you take in your brokerage account can be used to offset capital gains, which you'd normally pay taxes on. If you take a $4,000 loss and have $5,000 in capital gains from selling investments at a profit, you'll only end up needing to pay taxes on $1,000 of gains. Furthermore, if your investment loss for the year exceeds your gains, you can then use it to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income. And if there's money left over after that, guess what -- you can carry it into 2021 and use it to lower next year's taxes, too.

The less money you have to pay the IRS, the more you get to keep, invest, and enjoy. It pays to employ these strategies if your goal is to lower your tax burden and reap the major savings that come along with it.

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