Thanks to tax reform, many Americans will see their tax bills go down in 2018. The marginal tax rates have gone down, and the Child Tax Credit has doubled, just to name a couple of the changes that should put additional money back in the pockets of millions of Americans.
That said, while your taxes may be reduced, it would still be nice to reduce them even more, right? Here are three suggestions that could help you reduce your taxable income, and therefore your tax bill, when it comes time to file your 2018 tax return early next year.
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Get creative to maximize your deductions
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has severely limited the amount of deductions that will be available to most Americans. For example, about one-third of taxpayers have historically itemized their deductions, which allows them to take advantage of the deductions for mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical expenses, and more. In 2018 and beyond, just 5% of Americans are expected to itemize, thanks to the new larger standard deduction.
Having said that, one good strategy is to maximize the deductions you are entitled to in any given tax year. For example, student loan interest is still an above-the-line deduction, meaning that it can be used even if you don't itemize, so if your loans have any built-up interest (quite common if you're on an income-based repayment plan), it could be a good idea to pay some of it off before the end of the year.
If you are one of the few who expects to still itemize, there are even more possibilities. For one thing, if you make your January mortgage payment before the end of the year, you'll have 13 months' worth of mortgage interest to deduct, not 12. If you need to make estimated state tax payments, do so before the end of 2018 even if you're not required to do so, which can maximize your SALT deduction.
Maximize your retirement contributions
Perhaps the most effective way to reduce your taxable income is to contribute as much as possible to tax-deferred retirement accounts. And you may be able to save more than you think.
If you have a 401(k) or similar retirement plan at work, you can elect to defer as much as $18,500 into your account during 2018, and if you're 50 or older, this limit increases to $24,500.
If you save in a traditional IRA, you can contribute as much as $5,500 for the 2018 tax year ($6,500 if you are 50 or older). Even if you have a 401(k) or other retirement plan at work, you may still be eligible. And don't worry too much about it being late in the tax year -- you can make your 2018 IRA contributions at any point before the April 2019 tax deadline.
Finally, if any of your income is from self-employment, you may have additional options. Self-employed individuals can save in a SIMPLE IRA, SEP-IRA, or Solo 401(k), and the limits on these accounts can be quite generous. For example, depending on how much your self-employment income is, you could set aside as much as $54,000 in a SEP-IRA or Solo 401(k), not including catch-up contributions you may be eligible for. You don't need to be exclusively self-employed to take advantage -- even if you do some consulting or freelance work on the side, you could take advantage of these self-employment retirement plans.
Invest in a tax-efficient manner
Many investors maintain several types of brokerage accounts -- specifically, a combination of retirement and non-retirement accounts. As a personal example, I have a Solo 401(k), a Roth IRA, and a taxable brokerage account.
The point is to be sure that you're stuffing your tax-advantaged retirement accounts with investments that take full advantage of tax-free compounding. High-dividend stocks are a smart choice in tax-advantaged accounts, as you won't need to pay tax on your dividend income each year. Taxable bonds are another smart choice for retirement accounts.
On the other hand, try to focus on investments that won't trigger taxable events in your standard brokerage accounts. For example, my taxable brokerage account contains stocks like Berkshire Hathaway, Howard Hughes Corporation, and Markel -- all of which should be great long-term growth stocks, but none of which pay dividends I'll have to worry about when tax time rolls around.
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Matthew Frankel, CFP, owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), Markel, and The Howard Hughes. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Markel. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.