Happy July 5th, the start of midyear tax planning.
With six months left in the tax year, it's the perfect time to make some tax moves that could reduce your 2017 tax bill.
Here are six easy ones to take care of in July.
1. Adjust your payroll withholding.
Did you get a big tax refund this year? Or did you owe Uncle Sam more than you expected? Either situation means that you need to reassess your payroll withholding. It's easy to do. Just give your payroll administrator a new W-4. You should look into whether you need to adjust your withholding at the start of each year, or during a midyear tax review or any time that your personal or financial situations change.
I know that it's tempting and easy to use payroll withholding as forced savings so you get a tax refund every year. But that's your money that you could have been using throughout the year. And with interest rates finally creeping up, note that Uncle Sam doesn't pay any interest on the money you let him hold onto for months.
2. Contribute to your retirement accounts.
If your payroll withholding change means you're getting a bit more cash each paycheck, consider putting that — and maybe more — into a retirement plan. Yes, one day you will want to quit working and you'll be glad you saved so you can enjoy your post-work years.
The sooner you start socking away cash in your workplace 401(k) plan or (or in addition to) a Roth or traditional IRA, the sooner you can make that happen on your terms.
3. Donate to charity.
You missed spring cleaning? No worries. Take care of it now, especially emptying out your closet of clothes you no longer want. Someone else might, like the shoppers looking for items they need at your favorite nonprofit thrift store.
Summer is a slow time for charities when it comes to contributions, but the organizations must meet the needs of those who depend on their services year round. Your midyear donations of household goods as well as clothes will be very welcome. And the gifts are just as tax deductible as long as you follow the tax code's giving rules.
4. Assess your investments.
The stock market is on a tear, so it's a good time to look at how your investments have been doing. It might be time to sell some assets that have appreciated nicely.
There will be tax ramifications. But if you're like me, you're in a low enough tax bracket so that any investment income — qualified dividends, capital gains distributions or capital gains if you make a profit on an asset's sale — will be taxed at a maximum 15 percent rate. Some folks won't face any capital gains taxes at all.
5. Set up a bunching strategy.
A bunching strategy will help you have enough qualified expenses to meet some of the itemized deduction thresholds. These are percentages of your adjusted gross income you must exceed to be able to deduct any of the expenses. The hurdles are 10 percent for medical costs and 2 percent for miscellaneous expenses. If you don't exceed those percentages, all your receipt keeping and expense tracking is for naught.
A bunching strategy will help make sure that you don't keep getting close, but never quite have enough expenses to deduct. Basically, you push or pull as many of your allowable expenses as you can into one tax year. You can, for example, delay some medical procedures so that you'll incur them the next year when they'll be more tax valuable. Or you can join a few more professional organizations sooner rather than later to deduct them this year. Or vice versa.
6. Get weather ready.
It's been a slow Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico hurricane season. So far. But Mother Nature can change quickly and dramatically, regardless of what form — tropical storm, severe thunderstorm, wild fire — she takes. So be ready.
We can't prevent natural disasters, which pop up year round, but can prepare for their arrival and aftermath. The ol' blog's special Natural Disasters Resources page has physical and financial preparation tips.
Some moves are tax reform targets: One word of caution. The White House and Republican-controlled Congress insist there will be tax reform this year. But there are lots of hurdles on that tax revision road.
If it does happen, there's also the matter of when any changes might be effective. Past tax law changes have gone into effect either on the date the bill was signed, a specific date cited in the legislation or made retroactive to a past date, generally the start of the tax year in which the measure became law.
Since Donald J. Trump and his GOP colleagues could change things like the capital gains tax rates, charitable deductions or overall itemized deductions that might be less valuable if the standard deduction is dramatically increased, you might want to wait.
Then again, if you hold off on taking stock gains, for example, the market might be lower by the time any Internal Revenue Code changes are official.
Again, the old piece of advice about not letting the tax tail wag the financial dog comes into play.
Even more tax moves: I know you've got a lot of catching up to do in this week shortened by the long July 4th holiday. But take a few more minutes to check out the ol' blog's right column. That's where you'll find even more July Tax Moves under the heading of the same name.
If the six tax moves in this post or some of the others listed in the adjacent column apply to your personal tax situation, take advantage of them. The tax savings they could provide might just help pay for a summer vacation trip.