It’s February and now you are receiving all of your tax forms because it’s tax time again. Completing your tax return each year is essentially a true–up to make sure you paid your share of income taxes. Because you are accounting for the previous calendar year, there are not too many things you can do to change your tax situation when it’s time to prepare your taxes. That is why it is important to understand your tax return once it is complete so that if there are any slight changes that you can make, you can do so during the tax year when it counts.
Ultimately, you have to know a little bit about taxes in order to notice where these changes may occur (or know enough to ask for help!)
What are we working with? Age, stage of life, current income, current assets, location of assets, tax thresholds in many different areas and tax law updates, just to name a few.
Working/Accumulation Phase of Life
While you are earning money and building your wealth, you want to be mindful of several things. Understanding the mechanics of the different things going on in your tax return can give you planning ideas for what you invest in, the different account registrations that you may or may not be able to utilize and look at the big picture to decide what could be more beneficial in the future. For example, you could be paying huge capital gains taxes in your individual accounts with mutual funds that are out of your control. A couple of things to look at would be reviewing what the estimated capital gains are and potentially moving out of that position (also reviewing that tax consequence) and into an ETF where taxes can be more controlled. Another planning item is making sure you are investing in different account types with different taxation. For example, if you only invest in your traditional IRA and traditional 401k, when you take the money out later on, it will all be 100% taxable versus maybe investing some in a ROTH IRA or ROTH 401k. Again, depending on your situation, this could be beneficial or not.
Retirement/Decumulation Phase of Life
Even if you are in the retirement/decumulation stage of life there are many things that are going on with your income. For example, your Medicare premiums are based on your AGI from 2 years ago. This means that you can jump Medicare premium surcharges every year even if you are $1 over the limit. If you are budding up close to one of these brackets, then you may be able to sacrifice a slightly lower distribution from an IRA in order to save yourself hundreds of dollars in Medicare premiums.
The Bottom Line
Every situation is different and should be looked at from different angles. If you do not understand your taxes, ask someone who does. Also, make sure you look at your tax return once it’s done and see if there is anything to do DURING the year that can help your situation.