Tax Strategies for Individuals


Tax Saving Strategies: Frequently Asked Questions

Tax Saving Strategies: Frequently Asked Questions


What's the best way to borrow to make consumer purchases?

For homeowners, it's the home equity loan. Other consumer-related interest expenses, such as from car loans or credit cards, is not deductible.

Interest on a home-equity loan can be deductible. So avoid other nondeductible borrowings and use a home-equity loan if you plan to borrow for consumer purchases.

What special deductions can I get if I'm self employed?

You may be able to take an immediate expense deduction of up to $510,000 for 2017 ($500,000 in 2016), for equipment purchased for use in your business, instead of writing it off over many years. There is a phaseout limit of $2,030,000 in 2017 ($2,010,000 in 2016). Additionally, self-employed individuals can deduct 100 percent of their health insurance premiums. You may also be able to establish a Keogh, SEP or SIMPLE IRA plan and deduct your contributions (investments).

Can I ever save tax by filing a separate return instead of jointly with my spouse?

You sometimes may benefit from filing separately instead of jointly. Consider filing separately if you meet the following criteria:

  • One spouse has large medical expenses, miscellaneous itemized deductions, or casualty losses.
  • The spouses' incomes are about equal.

Separate filing may benefit such couples because the adjusted gross income "floors" for taking the listed deductions will be computed separately.

Why should I participate in my employer's cafeteria plan or FSA?

In 2017 (as in 2016), medical and dental expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). As such, many people are not able to take advantage of them. There is, however, a way to get around this if your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), Health Savings Account or cafeteria plan. These plans permit you to redirect a portion of your salary to pay these types of expenses with pre-tax dollars.

What's the best way to give to charity?

If you're planning to make a charitable gift, it generally makes more sense to give appreciated long-term capital assets to the charity, instead of selling the assets and giving the charity the after-tax proceeds. Donating the assets instead of the cash avoids capital gains tax on the sale, and you can obtain a tax deduction for the full fair-market value of the property.

I have a large capital gain this year. What should I do?

If you also have an investment on which you have an accumulated loss, it may be advantageous to sell it prior to year-end. Capital losses are deductible up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000. If you are planning on selling an investment on which you have an accumulated gain, it may be best to wait until after the end of the year to defer payment of the taxes for another year (subject to estimated tax requirements).

What other tax-favored investments should I consider?

For growth stocks you hold for the long term, you pay no tax on the appreciation until you sell them. No capital gains tax is imposed on appreciation at your death.

Interest on state or local bonds ("municipals") is generally exempt from federal income tax and from tax by the issuing state or locality. For that reason, interest paid on such bonds is somewhat less than that paid on commercial bonds of comparable quality. However, for individuals in higher brackets, the interest from municipals will often be greater than from higher paying commercial bonds after reduction for taxes.

For high-income taxpayers, who live in high-income-tax states, investing in Treasury bills, bonds, and notes can pay off in tax savings. The interest on Treasuries is exempt from state and local income tax.

What tax-deferred investments are possible if I'm self-employed?

Consider setting up and contributing as much as possible to a retirement plan. These are allowed even for a sideline or moonlighting businesses. Several types of plan are available: the Keogh plan, the SEP, and the SIMPLE IRA plan.

How can I make tax-deferred investments?

Through the use of tax-deferred retirement accounts you can invest some of the money you would have otherwise paid in taxes to increase the amount of your retirement fund. Many employers offer plans where you can elect to defer a portion of your salary and contribute it to a tax-deferred retirement account. For most companies, these are referred to as 401(k) plans. For many other employers, such as universities, a similar plan called a 403(b) is available.

Some employers match a portion of employee contributions to such plans. If this is available, you should structure your contributions to receive the maximum employer matching contribution.

What can I do to defer income?

If you are due a bonus at year-end, you may be able to defer receipt of these funds until January. This can defer the payment of taxes (other than the portion withheld) for another year. If you're self-employed, defer sending invoices or bills to clients or customers until after the new year begins. Here, too, you can defer some of the tax, subject to estimated tax requirements.

You can achieve the same effect of short-term income deferral by accelerating deductions, for example, paying a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the following January due date.

Why should I defer income to a later year?

Most individuals are in a higher tax bracket in their working years than during retirement. Deferring income until retirement may result in paying taxes on that income at a lower rate. Deferral can also work in the short term if you expect to be in a lower bracket in the following year or if you can take advantage of lower long-term capital gains rates by holding an asset a little longer.