Managing Uncertainty: Tax Moves to Make Now

As you know, the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington have made it very difficult to plan for 2013—as millions of Americans aren’t yet sure of even what their tax rate will be.

However, despite the uncertainty, there are actions you can take today. A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal provides several broad suggestions. They won’t be applicable to everyone, and seeking professional advice is still recommended, but this is helpful information nonetheless:

Make charitable gifts. The best value often comes from donating appreciated assets, because donors can get a full deduction while skipping capital-gains tax on the asset’s growth. Cash donations to charities are often deductible up to 50% of adjusted gross income, while the limit for gifts of other assets is often 30%. Disallowed portions usually carry over to future years.

If you aren’t sure whether the group is eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts, American Institute of CPAs tax specialist Melissa Labant recommends checking “Select Check” at www.irs.gov, a master list of qualified charities.

Are you concerned that the charitable deduction could shrink next year? If so, make a large donation to a “donor-advised” fund and qualify for a full write-off this year. Assets can then grow tax-free in the fund until donors specify tax-free recipients, sometimes years later. There’s no deduction at that point.

If you want to donate IRA assets to charity, wait a bit longer. Since 2006, IRA owners 70½ and older have been able to give up to $100,000 of the required payout directly to a charity. There’s no deduction, but no taxable income either. This wildly popular provision expired at the beginning of 2012, but lawmakers might yet reinstate it—as they did in 2010.

Until lawmakers clarify the issue, would-be donors should “leave room” for their donations because the first dollars out of an IRA count as the required payout. For example, if your required payout is $20,000 and you want to give $3,000 of that directly to your church, withdraw no more than $17,000 until this year’s rules are clear.

Make an extra mortgage payment, or pay down principal. Usually taxpayers can’t accelerate more than one month of mortgage interest, but that helps a bit if you think the mortgage-interest deduction will be curbed next year. Or find cash to pay down principal, which reduces overall interest.

 Don’t fret about the alternative minimum tax “patch” for 2012. If Congress doesn’t fix the AMT, eight times as many households will be subject to the tax as in previous years, and there will be severe disruptions to next spring’s tax-filing season. So it probably will get done, tax experts say.

Maximize contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Unlike with IRAs, the deadline for 401(k) contributions is Dec. 31. This year, the employee limit is $17,000, or $22,500 for workers 50 or older. This pretax contribution has two benefits: It bolsters savings and reduces adjusted gross income that might qualify the taxpayer for benefits that phase out at higher incomes.

Uncertainty and inaction in Washington DC doesn’t mean you can’t exercise savvy tax planning right now. If you have further questions about these issues or others, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us today!