Filing taxes can be complicated enough, but it can be even tougher if your life is up in the air or if you're going through a life transition. So, we turned to financial experts Ginita Wall and Candace Bahr of the Women's Institute for Financial Education (Wife.org) for their tips to save your sanity and get you what you deserve:
Taxes are, unfortunately, a part of every financial decision. Like it or not, Uncle Sam's greedy fingers reach into your pocket with every paycheck and each dollar of investment earnings.
These tax tips are excerpted from Ginita Wall's booklet "150 Ways to Save Taxes Through Life's Transitions."
The booklet includes tax tips for eight major life events, including going to school, beginning a job, becoming a family, business ownership, divorce, and retirement, plus bonus sections on tax troubles and year-end planning.
- Withdraw penalty-free from your traditional IRA to pay higher education expenses for yourself, your children, or grandchildren. You'll have to pay tax on the withdrawals at your regular income tax rate, but no early withdrawal penalty will apply.
- File a tax return every year you are due a refund. If your earnings are so low that you are not required to file, you'll need to file a return in order to claim a refund of withheld income taxes. If you wait more than two years to file, the IRS is not required to issue you a check.
- Keep track of the cost of books and equipment you purchased while in school. When you begin working, you may be able to depreciate those items that you use for your career.
The Working World
- Start investing in 401(k)s, stock purchase plans, employee stock options, and other tax-advantaged accounts as soon as possible. Small contributions made at an early age are much more valuable than large contributions made a few years before retirement.
- Learn about your company's fringe benefits. Large employers often have tuition assistance plans, free employee counseling, mass transit commuting assistance, and other tax-free perks that might not be common knowledge around the water cooler. Visit human resources for a chat about what your company offers, or check out your company's website.
- Consider paying your own disability premiums. If you become disabled, your disability benefits will be tax-free. If your employer pays your premiums as a tax-free perk, disability benefits will be taxable when received.
- Only borrow from your 401(k) in an emergency. You have the option, if you really need the money, to borrow these funds without taxes or penalties. However, the interest you pay on the loan won't be tax deductible, and you will miss out on the capital appreciation of the money if you'd left it invested it for growth in the plan.
- Set aside money in your employer's dependent care plan. Although tax-free reimbursements by your employer reduce the child and dependent care credit you are allowed to take, they are still a good deal for taxpayers in the 20 percent tax bracket and above.
- Claim the child tax credit. If your income is under $75,000 ($110,000 for joint filers) you are eligible to receive up to $1,000 for any child, stepchild, grandchild, adopted child, or foster child in your care.
- Claim the adoption tax credit when you adopt a child, if your income is under $210,810. You can claim a tax credit of up to $11,390 for adoption fees, attorney services, court costs, and other expenses in the year the adoption is final.
- If necessary, withdraw from your traditional IRA to meet medical emergencies, for education, or to buy a home. You can withdraw money from your IRA penalty-free (but not tax-free) before age 59-1/2 to pay for medical expenses that exceed 7-1/2 percent of your income, to pay for health insurance premiums if you are unemployed, to pay for higher education expenses, or to pay up to $10,000 of first-time home-buying expenses. If you desperately need money for one of these qualified expenses, your IRA is a place to start.
- Deduct 100 percent of the health insurance premiums for your entire family. If you employ your spouse in your business, you may cover him and deduct the entire premium as an employee benefit.
- Deduct an office in your home. If you regularly and exclusively use part of your home to perform administrative or managerial activities for your business, you can claim a home office deduction for utilities, rent or mortgage interest, depreciation, phone use, cleaning, and the like. You can still take this deduction even if you provide products or services at other locations.
- Read more. Subscriptions, books, and other materials related to your field are tax-deductible items. Ditto conferences, seminars, and courses related to your work.
- Use consulting agreements when you buy or sell a business. For example, if the buyer hires the seller on an exclusive contract, the seller will be able to set up a Keogh plan, as well as deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses. The buyer will get a current tax deduction for salary paid to the seller
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