Did you owe tax on your 2012 tax return? Did you receive a sizeable refund? Or, conversely, did you receive a smaller refund than you expected? Taking another look at your tax return from this past year and making a few changes could put more money in your pocket in the short term. And by examining your investments as they are reported on your tax return, you may be able to strategize for the long-term. Start by looking at six key elements:
1. Federal Withholding
If you received a large tax refund, it might be time to adjust the amount of tax the federal government withholds from your paycheck. Although next year your refund check may not be as large, you will have the advantage of seeing a larger sum deposited directly into your pocket every month. To adjust your withholding, fill out and sign a Form W-4, and submit it to your employer. Do this in cases where your adjustments to income, exemptions and deductions remain relatively steady from year-to-year, and where the government consistently is required to give you a large refund.
2. State Withholding
Some people are entirely exempt from state tax, but it is withheld from their paychecks nevertheless. At the end of each year, they may include the amount of their state taxes in their itemized deductions, but then receive a refund they have to declare as income in the next year. This problem particularly applies to active duty military families, many of whom are posted in states other than their state of residency. Military families can check with their state income tax authority to see if there is an appropriate form that can be completed and filed to exempt them from withholding. A higher adjusted gross income (AGI), even if it is subsequently reduced by itemized deductions, can erode other adjustments to income, such as a deduction for student loans, IRA contributions, higher education expenses and more because of certain AGI caps on these benefits.
3. Tax Rates and Adjusted Gross Income
As you may have heard, Congress allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher-income earners. That means joint filers with more than $450,000 of adjusted gross income ($400,000 for single individuals) are now in the 39.6 percent tax bracket. Taxpayers at this level of income or above are also subject to a higher long-term capital gains tax rate: 20 percent, up from 15 percent paid by other taxpayers.
In addition, for tax years beginning in 2013, the 33 percent tax bracket for individual taxpayers ends at $398,350 for married individuals filing joint returns, heads of households and single individuals. If you were hovering near the bottom of the 35 percent bracket for the 2012 tax year, then you might want to see if you can readjust your income so that you fall within the 33 percent category.
Higher-income taxpayers also have two new taxes to worry about for 2013 and beyond. Joint-filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers) are also subject to the 3.8 percent surtax on net investment income and a .9 percent additional Medicare tax. Does your adjusted gross income for last year approach these figures? Is it on the edge of the income brackets? Will stock market increases this year put you over the top of those income thresholds? If so, it may be time to find ways to reduce your income for 2013.
At some point in your efforts over the years to accumulate a savings nest egg, you will need to consider diversification, the process of putting your money in the right kind of investment vehicles to satisfy your personal risk strategy and achieve your goals. Looking at your tax return will help you decide whether the investments you now have are the right ones for you. For example, if you are in a high tax bracket and need to diversify away from common stocks, investing in tax-exempt bonds might help, especially if you have state income taxes to worry about, too.
5. Medical Costs
Should you be taking advantage of the medical expense deduction? Many people assume that with the 10 percent adjusted gross income floor on medical expenses now imposed for tax years starting in 2013 (7.5 percent for seniors) that it doesn’t pay for them to keep track of expenses to test whether they are entitled to itemize. But with the premiums for certain long-term care insurance contracts now counted as a medical expense, some individuals are discovering that along with other health insurance premiums, deductibles and timing of elective treatments, the medical tax deduction may be theirs for the taking.
6. Retirement Planning
Don’t forget to protect for eventualities. Are you maximizing the amount that Uncle Sam allows you to save tax-free for retirement? A look at your W-2 for the year, and at the retirement contribution deductions allowed in determining adjusted gross income, should tell you a lot. Should your spouse set up his or her own retirement fund, too? Are you over-invested in tax-deferred retirement plans? If so, you may lose a significant amount of your nest egg to tax after retirement.
Look to our dedicated Tax Group to help you plan properly for maximizing future tax savings. For more information, contact our Doeren Mayhew.