November Thinking About Taxes: Really?

autumn leaves

November thinking about taxes: In general, November is not the normal time to think about tax planning.

Tax planning is considered an annual drudgery beginning around January 15 and ending on April 15. Not something to ruin the holiday spirit.

Yet actually, there are tax-savings tasks to think about at year-end. Doing so can make the January – April slog much smoother.

Why is Planning to Save Taxes So Loathed?

But I get it – no one wants to think about taxes at the holidays, or at all. And why is that? Here are several reasons given by Roger Pine, Founder of Holistiplan, a tax analysis software for financial advisors:

1) It’s a bill for one of the biggest expenses all year (most times exceeded only by housing costs).

2) You are responsible for preparing your own bill, or hiring someone to do it for you.

3) The bill forms are a design disaster with unintelligible instructions that take years of schooling beyond a college degree to completely understand.

4) Even when the bill is done correctly, it’s difficult to see why you got charged what you did.

5) If you don’t prepare the bill, or do it wrong, there are serious legal consequences.

6) If you want a smaller bill next year, you have to know how to decipher the forms for clues. (That’s why it’s called the tax “code.”)

7) It stinks to hear afterward, “If you had only done X, you would have saved Y,” if it’s too late to do X.

As a result, how do taxes make most of us feel? Helpless and uninformed. Not the most empowering feelings from a financial standpoint.

Tax planning and preparation does not help us achieve that sense of financial wellness, or as they say in financial therapy circles, financial “self-efficacy.” 

Worth Taking the Time

In fact, November is a great time to consider a few year-end moves like:

  • Roth conversions,
  • taking capital losses or capital gains,
  • doubling up on property taxes and charitable contributions, or
  • making IRA and HSA contributions.

Sound like a lot? It could be, but it could also save hundreds or thousands on April 15. If you have a CPA and/or CFP®, all you have to do is gather a few documents and let them do the rest. Gather these:

1) Your September or October brokerage statements (the whole statement, not just screenshots);

2) Your latest paystubs, Social Security statements, or other items showing regular income; and

3) Any large one-time transactions that happened or will happen this year, like a real estate closing statement or estimate.

After reviewing these, be ready to answer more specific questions, such as any changes in your deductions. Don’t worry about exact figures – it’s ok to estimate right now.

Why is November So Important for Tax Planning?

One important goal is to make sure you don’t end up with a taxable income figure that’s just barely over some kind of threshold or bracket. This can cost a lot more than necessary.

An extreme but could-easily-happen example: A couple in their 60s with one spouse still working and one over 65 on Medicare reported $195,000 in 2021 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That was $1,000 over the threshold of $194,000 for the first (of 6) Medicare surcharge brackets. The additional $1,000 in income cost the couple an additional $936 in 2023 Medicare premium surcharges. That’s a marginal tax rate of 93.6%!

If it’s year-end and you determine that you’re close to the edge of a threshold, you have a few weeks to strategize. A few easy moves:

  • If you’re employed with a 401K, or you have a deductible IRA, make sure you have maxed out your contributions. If you turned 50 this year, remember you now get an extra catch-up contribution.
  • If you have a Health Savings Account, make sure you have maxed out your contributions. If you turned 55 this year, you now get an extra $1000 catchup contribution.
  • If you have a business, can you push income to January or accelerate expenses into December?
  • If you are over 70 1/2, you can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) from your IRA. (more info here: https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com/keep-charitable-deduction/)
  • Instead of giving cash to charities, you can give them an asset (like stock) with a large capital gain. Depending on whether you itemize, you might get a deduction instead of showing the gain.
  • If you believe you are in a lower tax bracket now than you will be in retirement, and additional income won’t bump you up against any of the other thresholds, consider a Roth or partial Roth conversion. (But do it soon. It can take several weeks to accomplish, depending upon which company holds your accounts.)

Based upon a November estimate of your income and deductions, your professional can begin to strategize in other ways, too. (Schedule a 30-minute call with us if you’d like to talk more about tax planning or other money topics: https://bit.ly/3GWZNrc)

Being proactive on taxes can be a vaccine against stress. Imagine feeling more in control in April once you see how much you helped shrink your tax bill at year-end.

If you haven’t wanted to think about taxes in November before, it might be worth your while to think again.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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