FineMark's Year-End Tax Planning Tips

11/08/2011

FineMark’s Year-End Tax Planning Moves

Year-end tax planning is especially challenging this year because of uncertainty over whether Congress will enact sweeping tax reform that could have a major impact in 2012 and beyond.

Regardless of what Congress does late this year or early the next, there are solid tax savings to be realized by taking advantage of tax breaks that are on the books for 2011 but may be gone next year unless they are extended by Congress.

We have compiled a checklist of actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end. If you have any questions about these suggestions, please call your FineMark Advisor and we will help guide you through it.

  1. Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer's health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year. Don't forget that you can no longer set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin and antacids.
  2. If you become eligible to make health savings account (HSA) contributions in December of this year, you can make a full year's worth of deductible HSA contributions for 2011.
  3. Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. Call FineMark for details.
  4. Postpone income until 2012 and accelerate deductions into 2011 to lower your 2011 tax bill. This strategy may enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2011 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher education tax credits, the above-the-line deduction for higher-education expenses, and deductions for student loan interest
  5. If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, and want to remain in the market for the long term, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2011.
  6. If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the assets in the Roth IRA account may have declined in value, and if you leave things as-is, you will wind up paying a higher tax than is necessary. You can back out of the transaction by re-characterizing the rollover or conversion, that is, by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later reconvert to a Roth IRA.
  7. Take an eligible rollover distribution from a qualified retirement plan before the end of 2011 if you are facing a penalty for underpayment of estimated tax and the increased withholding option is unavailable or won't sufficiently address the problem. Income tax will be withheld from the distribution and will be applied toward the taxes owed for 2011. You can then timely roll over the gross amount of the distribution, as increased by the amount of withheld tax, to a traditional IRA.
  8. Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for 2011, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes (or state sales tax if you elect this deduction option), miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions.
  9. Accelerate big ticket purchases into 2011 in order to assure a deduction for sales taxes on the purchases if you will elect to claim a state and local general sales tax deduction instead of a state and local income tax deduction. Unless Congress acts, this election won't be available after 2011.
  10. If you are a homeowner, make energy saving improvements to the residence, such as putting in extra insulation or installing energy saving windows, or an energy efficient heater or air conditioner. You may qualify for a tax credit if the assets are installed in your home before 2012.
  11. Unless Congress extends it, the up-to-$4,000 above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses will not be available after 2011. Thus, consider prepaying eligible expenses if doing so will increase your deduction for qualified higher education expenses.
  12. If you are age 70-1/2 or older, own IRAs and are thinking of making a charitable gift, consider arranging for the gift to be made directly by the IRA trustee. Such a transfer, if made before year-end, can achieve important tax savings.
  13. Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retired plan) if you have reached age 70-½. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. If you turned age 70-1/2 in 2011, you can delay the first required distribution to 2012, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2012—the amount required for 2011 plus the amount required for 2012.
  14. Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. You can give $13,000 in 2011 to each of an unlimited number of individuals but you can't carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

If you have questions regarding any of this information, please call us at 239-461-5900.