What do health care, housing, or higher education have in common? Nobody enjoys paying for it. In fact, the only expenditure even more dreaded is income taxes.
But there is some good news: The tax code offers some methods to use money spent on the first three to reduce what they owe on the latter. Here’s how.
Home Sweet Home
The first way homeowners can cut their income taxes is via what they begrudgingly pay in property taxes. However, the break is only optimal for those who have enough deductible expenses (including property taxes) to exceed the standard deduction.
In 2013, the standard deduction is $6,100 for single filers and $12,200 for married couples filing jointly. One trick clients can use to maximize the tax-deductibility of property taxes is to “bunch” more than one year’s worth of payments into the same calendar year.
Mortgage interest paid on both a primary mortgage and a home equity loan (or line of credit) can also be itemized. The potential tax deduction couple with today’s low interest rates make borrowing against home equity a better choice than most other loan options available to your clients who are making larger purchases (such as a car or boat).
Clients who have paid “points” to obtain a mortgage can amortize the cost of the points over the life of the mortgage. If they refinance to a new mortgage, they can also immediately deduct the unamortized points of the previous mortgage.
Don’t forget the tax help available to homeowners who are making qualifying energy-efficient improvements. Some projects could bring a break equal to 10 percent of the cost, for as much as $500.
Health Care Deductions
Higher-income clients who have the option available should strongly consider the purchase of a high-deductible health insurance policy, and pair it with a health savings account (HSA). They’ll save money on policy premiums and generally reduce their taxable income by the amount of money deposited in to the HSA.
Working clients will be happy to know that flexible spending accounts (FSAs) may still be offered by their employer, but the accounts have been made less attractive. In 2013, the contribution limit has been reduced to $2,500. Funds in FSAs are still “use it or lose it,” meaning that any money in the accounts that isn’t spent by the annual deadline is forfeited.
In a worst-case scenario, your clients may be liable for medical expenses on their own. Those who fall into this unfortunate situation may at least be able to use the costs to cut their taxes. In 2013, those who pay medical expenses with their own money can deduct the amount that exceeds 10 percent of their modified adjusted gross income. The threshold is 7.5 percent for those over age 65.
Long-term care insurance premiums is another medical expense that may be tax-deductible. The amount of annual premium that may be deductible in 2013 depends on the client’s age, and ranges from $360 for those under 40 to $4,500 for policyholders over age 70.
For more information,see Publications 502 (“Medical and Dental Expenses) and 969 (“Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Plans”) at www.irs.gov.
Although some states’ 529 college savings plans offer small breaks on initial deposits, the main tax advantage is that future income and gains that remain in the account are sheltered from taxation.
Eventually, withdrawals can be completely tax-free, as long as the money distributed can be matched up against qualified expenses incurred for a qualified beneficiary.
Even withdrawals taken from IRAs get special treatment, if the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. The distributions still count as taxable income, but clients under 59 ½ can avoid the additional 10 percent penalty that would otherwise be applied.
Keep in mind that the withdrawals are added on to the client’s income, which may reduce any need-based financial aid awarded in the ensuing year.
The next way to save on taxes when paying for college is the use of tax deductions and credits for out-of-pocket costs incurred on behalf of adult clients and their dependents. The American Opportunity Tax Credit can reduce the income taxes of qualifying families, ranging in amounts from $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the family’s income.
Another potential education tax break comes in the form of the Lifetime Learning Credit. Up to 20 percent of qualifying annual expenses per student can be used, up to a total of $2,000.
Finally, families who don’t qualify for either credit may still be able to deduct up to $4,000 of annual tuition and other similar expenses from their taxable income—even if they borrowed money to pay those costs.
Those loans for higher education require the borrower to pay interest but that expense may also be a source of income tax savings. The interest amount incurred is sent from the lender each year to the borrower on IRS Form 1098-E. The deductible amount is the lesser of the actual interest cost, or $2,500.
For more information,see Publication 970 (“Tax Benefits for Higher Education”) at www.irs.gov.
Of course, you should recommend that your clients consider these tax breaks with the help of a qualified CPA or income tax professional—whose fees may be tax-deductible.
But don’t forget that the annual account maintenance and investment advisory fees the clients pay to you may be deductible, as well. The fees are lumped in with “miscellaneous itemized expenses” that can be deductible to the extent the amount exceeds 2 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
For more information,see Publications 550 (“Investment Income and Expenses”) and 529 (“Miscellaneous Deductions”) at www.irs.gov.