Here’s how to prepare for changes due to the new tax law.
RETIREES AND near-retirees need to find every tax deduction they can take. There are several ways to reduce your tax bill, but you often need to take action before the end of December. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the tax law in many important ways. Here are five tips for retirees filing taxes for 2018.
Take required minimum distributions. Required minimum distributions are amounts the owner of a retirement account must withdraw annually starting after age 70 1/2. When you made those contributions to your retirement plan years ago, they were tax-deferred – not tax-free. It’s now time for retirees to pay up.
Forgetting to take your required minimum distributions from your retirement account can cost you big time. “Some people forget,” says Douglas Birch, managing director of the tax group at CBIZ in Clearwater, Florida. “If you miss the withdrawal, you will be subject not only to the taxes, but a 50 percent excise penalty on the amount you were supposed to take out, but didn’t.”
Make qualified charitable distributions. Some people don’t want to take their retirement account distributions or don’t need to. A 401(k) or IRA withdrawal causes your income to go up for that year, and that may impact your Social Security taxes and increase your Medicare payments. If the RMD instead goes directly to a charity, it stays off your tax return and reduces your income. “Take your RMD, but instead of putting it in your pocket, send it directly to the charity,” says Karen Mims, a tax attorney and founder of Harbour Point Wealth Management in Columbia, Maryland.
Open a health savings account. If you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan in 2018, you are eligible to contribute to a health savings account until your tax filing deadline in April 2019. The HSA offers a triple tax benefit: contributions are made on a pretax basis, interest and investment earnings are tax-free and qualified medical payments are tax-free.
If you are 55 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to your HSA, or $2,000 for a married couple. The IRS also allows a once-in-a-lifetime transfer from your IRA to your HSA. However, you are not allowed to contribute to a HSA once you have enrolled in Medicare.
Consider the new tax law. One major change in the new tax law is the increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 for single people and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. And once you or your spouse turns age 65, you can qualify for an even higher standard deduction. This is expected to dramatically reduce the number of people who itemize. “Do a tax return for 2018 and do it based on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act so you can see, ‘How did that affect me?'” Mims says. “It avoids you acting surprised on April 15. Go through it now and see what you’ve done year-to-date and how it will reflect on your tax return.” Running the numbers now gives you time to make changes before the end of the calendar year.
Another major tax change for 2018 is a $10,000 cap on property and sales or state income tax deductions. Those who have high property taxes will only be able to deduct $10,000 under the new tax law.
Bunch up your deductions. You must itemize your taxes in order to claim a tax deduction for charitable contributions. “If you are a person who did not have more than $24,000 of itemized deductions, you don’t get to use charitable deductions,” Mims says.
If you can’t swing large charitable contributions in a single year, double your charitable contributions in one year and make none the next year, Birch says. Then, your total deductions will exceed the standard deduction in the year you make the contributions and you will be able to itemize that year. You can claim the standard deduction in years when you don’t contribute large amounts to charity.