Empty-nesters should make these moves throughout the year to keep their bill low at tax time. Here are the areas where you should look for savings:
Tax Savings For: Work | Car and Home | Charitable Contributions | Inheritance | Investments and Retirement Savings
Give yourself a raise.
If you got a big tax refund this year, it meant that you're having too much tax taken out of your paycheck every payday. So far this year, the average refund is nearly $2,800. Filing a new W-4 form with your employer (talk to your payroll office) will insure that you get more of your money when you earn it. If you're just average, you deserve about $225 a month extra. Try our easy withholding calculator now to see if you deserve more allowances.
Go for a health tax break.
Be aggressive if your employer offers a medical reimbursement account — sometimes called a flex plan. These plans let you divert part of your salary to an account which you can then tap to pay medical bills. The advantage? You avoid both income and Social Security tax on the money, and that can save you 20% to 35% or more compared with spending after-tax money. Starting in 2013, the maximum you can contribute to a health care flex plan is $2,500. Use our handy calculator to figure out how much you can save.
Stash cash in a self-employed retirement account.
If you have your own business, you have several choices of tax-favored retirement accounts, including Keogh plans, Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs) and individual 401(k)s. Contributions cut your tax bill now while earnings grow tax-deferred for your retirement.
Don't be afraid of home-office rules.
If you use part of your home regularly and exclusively for your business, you can qualify to deduct as home-office expenses some costs that are otherwise considered personal expenses, including part of your utility bills, insurance premiums and home maintenance costs. Some home-business operators steer away from these breaks for fear of an audit. But a new IRS rule that takes effect this year will make it easier to claim this tax break. Instead of calculating individual expenses, you can claim a standard deduction of $5 for every square foot of office space, up to 300 square feet.
Switch to a Roth 401(k).
If your employer offers the new breed of 401(k), seriously consider opting for it. Unlike the regular 401(k), you don't get a tax break when your money goes into a Roth, but younger workers are often in lower tax brackets ... so the break isn't so impressive anyway. Also unlike a regular 401(k) money coming out of a Roth 401(k) in retirement will be tax-free at a time you may well be in a higher bracket.
Pay back a 401(k) loan before leaving the job.
Failing to do so means the loan amount will be considered a distribution that will be taxed in your top bracket and, if you're younger than 55, hit with a 10% penalty, too.
Choose the right kind of business.
Beyond choosing what business to go into, you also have to decide on the best form for your business: a sole proprietorship, a subchapter S corporation, a C-corp or a limited-liability company (LLC). Your choice will have a major impact on your taxes.