TAXES


Tax Savings for Older Families

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Older families 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 | Estate Planning | Inheritance | Investments and Retirement Savings | Medical Expenses | Rental Property

Work

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. 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. The maximum you can contribute to a health care flex plan is $2,500.

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 makes 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.

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Time receipt of self-employment income.

Those who run their own businesses have a lot of flexibility at year-end. To push the receipt of income into the following year , delay mailing bills to clients until late in December that payment is received after December 31. Or, pay business expenses before January 1 to lock in deductions.

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 in the year you leave your job, hit with a 10% penalty, too.

Home

Convert a vacation home to your principal residence.

The break that allows homeowners to take up to $250,000 of profit from a home sale tax-free ($500,000 for married couples) is restricted to the sale of a primary residence. But you can extend the tax break to cover part of the profit on a second home if you convert it to your primary residence at least two years before you sell. The portion of the profit that is tax-free is based on the ratio of time after 2008 that the house was a second home to the total time you owned it. Say you buy a vacation home this year, use it as a retreat for five years, and then move in and make it your principal residence. If you sell ten years later, two-thirds of the profit would be tax-free.

Use an installment sale of real estate to defer a tax bill.

If the buyer pays you in installments, the IRS will let you pay the tax bill on your profit in installments, too. You must charge interest on the deal, and each payment you receive will have three parts: interest (taxable at your top rate), capital gain (taxed at a maximum of 15%) and return of your investment (tax-free).

Charitable Donations

Tote up out-of-pocket costs of doing good.

Keep track of what you spend while doing charitable work, from what you spend on stamps for a fundraiser, to the cost of ingredients for casseroles you make for the homeless, to the number of miles you drive your car for charity (worth 14 cents a mile). Add such costs with your cash contributions when figuring your charitable contribution deduction.

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