Forget the Ghosts: 9 Ways to Bust Tax-Time Specters

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By Al Chingren

Tax time may not be as frightening as things that go bump in the night, but many are haunted by ghosts of tax days past. Take care of a few decisions now—some of which have a Dec. 31 deadline—to help ease the dread of a hair-raising experience next April.

Before making any decisions, have a good idea about your income level so you can estimate your marginal tax bracket . That can help you know if it makes sense to act now or wait until next year on some decisions.

Prepare Now for No Tricks, Just Treats at Tax Time

Make decisions for tax-time now with nine year-end tax considerations. These reminders might help reduce what you owe or increase your refund.

1. Review Thrills and Chills of Gains or Losses

When you withdraw money from your taxable investments, you'll have either a capital gain or loss, depending on whether you made or lost money with your sale. Selling with a gain means you'll owe additional taxes on the amount over your cost basis. You might be able to offset gains by selling other investments at a loss. If it makes sense to sell securities that have lost value, consider that option as a way to lower your tax bill.

2. Don't Get Tricked by the Rebalancing Trade Date

If you plan to rebalance your portfolio, transactions in a taxable account will trigger a gain or loss for each account. Keep in mind that the trade date of your transactions determines the year in which potential taxes will be due. Also, be aware of year-end distribution dates. Purchasing new shares on or before the dividend date means you also receive the fund's income and capital gain payments, if any.

3. Carve Out a Strategy for Roth Conversions

If you're considering converting part or all your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you'll owe taxes on any contributions and earnings not previously taxed. Decide if you want to pay taxes on the conversion this year or postpone that until next year. To spread the taxes over multiple years, you might want to do a partial conversion.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) May Be Another Tax-Saving Strategy to Consider

ETFs have grown in popularity, partly due to their tax benefits. They are generally more tax-efficient than traditional mutual funds.

Both are subject to taxes on capital gains and dividends; however, ETFs are structured in a way that tends to minimize taxes while you hold them.

Learn more about ETFs.

4. Contribute to Retirement for Potential Sweet Savings

Whether you contribute in a Traditional or Roth IRA, you benefit from tax-advantaged investing. While IRAs allow you to make 2019 contributions until Tax Day, contributing earlier means more time in the market for your dollars to grow. Take note: If you're eligible, you might be able to deduct Traditional IRA contributions.

5. Review RMD Tax Withholding to Avoid Scary Penalties

If you're over age 70½ and take required minimum distributions (RMDs), make note of the tax amount being withheld with each redemption. Adequate withholding can be especially important for avoiding underpayment if you're making quarterly tax payments. Don't forget, any RMDs not taken by Dec. 31 could be subject to a 50% penalty.

6. Unmask Deductions With 529 Plan Contributions

Unlike IRA contributions, purchases into 529 Education Savings Plans must be made by year-end to take advantage of any state deductions  for 2019, if applicable. Anyone—related or not—may be able to take a deduction for contributions to your student's account, depending on their state's tax laws.

7. Assess Education Expenses to Scare Up More

If you have a student in college, you might be able to deduct  education-related costs. Review your anticipated income to determine if you want to spend the money now to take advantage of those deductions this year or wait until 2020. You may also be eligible for educational credits , such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit  and the Lifetime Learning Credit .

8. Consider Charitable Donations for Treats All Around

Donating your taxable investments presents a win-win situation for the qualified organization  of your choice and you. When you donate securities in-kind, you don't pay taxes on the appreciation—and you may also receive a deduction. Refer to the IRS website  or talk to your tax advisor for details.

9. Know Gifting Limits to Foil Ghoulish Results

If you're planning to reduce your estate by making gifts to family, take note of the annual exemption . As of 2019, the IRS allows you to give up to $15,000 per person per year without incurring gift taxes. You can still give more than the limit per year to an individual and not incur gift tax, but you must report it and count it towards your lifetime exemption amount ($11.4 million in 2019 ).

Plan Ahead for Less Bubble, Bubble Taxes and Trouble

Looking ahead has its benefits. Early tax planning lets you make money-saving decisions before time runs out. And, the more money you save from taxes, the more you have to invest toward your investment goals.

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Al Chingren
Al Chingren
Vice President
Personal Finance and
Retirement Solutions

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      Please consult your tax advisor for more detailed information regarding the Roth IRA or for advice regarding your individual situation.

      Taxes are deferred until withdrawal if the requirements are met. A 10% penalty may be imposed for withdrawal prior to reaching age 59½.

      IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: American Century Companies, Inc. and its affiliates do not provide tax advice. Accordingly, any discussion of U.S. tax matters contained herein (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, in connection with the promotion, marketing or recommendation by anyone unaffiliated with American Century Companies, Inc. of any of the matters addressed herein or for the purpose of avoiding U.S. tax-related penalties.

      This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for more detailed information or for advice regarding your individual situation.

      IRA investment earnings are not taxed. Depending on the type of IRA and certain other factors, these earnings, as well as the original contributions, may be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate upon withdrawal. A 10% penalty may be imposed for early withdrawal before age 59½.

      ETF shares may be bought or sold throughout the day at their market price, not their Net Asset Value (NAV), on the exchange on which they are listed. Shares of ETFs are tradable on secondary markets and may trade either at a premium or a discount to their NAV on the secondary market.

      ETFs trade like stocks, fluctuate in market value and may trade at prices above or below the ETF's net asset value. Brokerage commissions and ETF expenses will reduce returns.

      Investment return and principal value of security investments will fluctuate. The value at the time of redemption may be more or less than the original cost. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

      The opinions expressed are those of American Century Investments (or the portfolio manager) and are no guarantee of the future performance of any American Century Investments' portfolio. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.

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