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10 Tips for Tax-Savvy Investing

Why wait to make some smart investing moves to keep your taxes in check? Apply one or more of these tips.

A woman sitting at her desk with an open notebook and computer monitor with a spreadsheet open.

Key Takeaways

Many people miss out on tax savings or owe more by waiting until filing time to review their investment and financial situation.

Waiting until the last minute also means rushing and stress during the already-busy holiday season.

Getting an early start and considering taxes whenever you make an investing or financial decision can save time, stress, and potential tax consequences.

For most people, taxes come to mind twice a year: December 31, when many deduction deadlines occur, and April 15, when tax returns are usually due.

Taking a few investment-focused steps throughout the year may mean fewer surprises and less stress during tax prep—and a potentially lower tax bill, too.

Act on Tax Tips Now for an Easier, Less Costly Filing

Putting one or more of these tax tips into practice may help reduce your tax consequences, last-minute rushing at year-end and filing time, and stress about the entire process.

Tax Tip #1. Understand and Project Your Current Year Tax Bracket

Your tax bracket can play a big role in your decision to make an investment move or hold off for a while. Not only can tax legislation change the overall brackets, but your personal tax brackets can change from year to year as well. Refer to our Tax Fast Facts to review the brackets for the current tax year. Having your tax advisor run a tax projection for the current year can also be a good idea.

Tax Tip #2. Know Your Investments’ Cost Basis

Cost basis is the price you paid when you bought a security, mutual fund share, or exchange-traded fund (ETF) plus any commissions and expenses.

Before you make withdrawals, knowing your cost basis can help you determine whether you’ll have a gain or loss on your investment, as well as whether you’ll owe taxes on any gains, called capital-gains taxes.

There are several cost-basis calculation methods, such as average cost and first in, first out. You choose your preferred method at the time you purchase any mutual fund shares. You may want to discuss which method to choose with your tax advisor or CPA before you invest.

When it comes to making gifts of securities to loved ones or charities, your cost-basis method plays a crucial role in doing so in a tax-efficient manner.

You’ll receive a 1099-B with cost-basis information for any mutual-fund shares purchased in 2012 or later.

Tax Tip #3. Check Your Mutual Funds’ Estimated and Year-End Distribution Dates

Mutual funds buy and sell holdings throughout the year and distribute their portion of sale proceeds to shareholders, usually in December. Early estimates are often available in October and November. The fund’s price per share gets adjusted downward to make up for the distribution, so the value of the share price doesn’t increase based on the payment.

Knowing these dates—and checking on estimated capital-gains distributions before the actual ones occur—can help you:

  • Pick a tax-savvy time to invest. Investing in a fund close to its distribution date (called buying the distribution) could mean you may end up owing tax on distributed gains when you file your taxes. Waiting to buy fund shares until after the distribution date, called the ex-dividend date, is one way to help contain your tax costs. (Saving on your tax bill should be just one of many things you consider when you choose to invest.)

  • Be prepared for potential tax bills. Checking estimated distribution amounts can help you estimate your tax bill for your upcoming tax filing. That way, you avoid any surprises.

Tax Tip #4. Review Your Investment Balances with Taxes in Mind

When you’re looking to replenish your cash flow and spending account, the investment bucket you choose can affect your tax bill. Remember, it’s what you keep from your investment earnings after taxes and fees that matters, rather than simply what you earn.

You might want to harvest gains from your taxable accounts at a time you expect those gains to benefit from the zero capital-gain rate (such as when your income falls below the tax threshold) or when you have other capital losses in your portfolio. You might also be able to sell an investment where you’ve had a loss and then apply that loss to offset other capital gains, a strategy known as tax-loss harvesting. Talk to your tax advisor to see if you could benefit from this approach.

After reviewing your portfolio asset mix, you might discover it’s strayed from its targeted allocation. That situation can arise when the markets have had dramatic gains or declines. When such a straying has occurred, you could do a two-step transaction where first you sell shares in the investment type in which you have more than your allocation and then you purchase shares in the investment type in which you have less. This common technique is called rebalancing.

Unless the funds are all in an IRA, retirement plan, or another tax-deferred account, the rebalancing is taxable. That means you’ll also want to consider the tax implications when rebalancing your portfolio. Coordinating your rebalancing with your tax loss or gain harvesting can help provide tax savings.

Tax Tip #5. Look at Where Your Investments are Located

The type of account you invest in can make a difference tax-wise.

For example, because actively managed mutual funds can distribute capital gains—and have tax consequences—they can be better suited from a tax perspective in tax-advantaged accounts such as IRAs, other retirement plans, or 529 College Savings Accounts.

On the other hand, ETFs, which are generally more tax-efficient due to their structure, can be beneficial in taxable accounts. (Learn more about ETFs.)

Tax Tip #6. Explore if You Should Convert to a Roth IRA

Roth IRAs have gained in popularity due to their tax-free earnings growth, as well as no required minimum distributions at retirement. If you’re currently in a low tax bracket and expect to be in a higher one in future years, choosing a Roth IRA could make sense tax- and savings-wise for you and your heirs.

Because Uncle Sam expects his tax cut sooner or later, post-tax dollars must be used when contributing to or converting into a Roth.

You can convert your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA—but be sure to consult with a tax professional to understand the potential tax impacts now and potential benefits later for you and your heirs.

Roth conversions have income-tax consequences. You'll owe taxes on any pre-tax contributions you made, plus earnings, on the federal level and possibly the state level too. To spread the taxes owed over multiple years, you might want to do several partial conversions over multiple years.

Consider coordinating your partial Roth conversions during years when you expect your income to be lower than it would be in the future. Also, have your tax advisor prepare a tax projection to identify the range of annual conversion amounts.

Tax Tip #7. Don’t Wait to Contribute to Your Retirement Accounts

Whether you contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA, you benefit from tax-advantaged investing.

Contributing earlier means you’re less likely to miss out on the tax benefits saving in these types of vehicles can provide. You have until Tax Day of the following year—typically April 15—these contributions to count toward the previous tax year.

Plus, your investments will have more time in the market to potentially grow.

Tax Tip #8. Make Sure You Take RMDs—and Review Tax Withholding for Them

If you’re over age 72 or have an inherited retirement account, be sure to take your retirement-plan required minimum distributions (RMDs). You can mark your calendar or automate the process. If you miss taking RMDs by December 31, you could face a 50% tax penalty on the amount you failed to take.

RMDs count toward your income in the tax year they’re taken (unless you inherited a Roth account). Check the amount being withheld from each redemption to cover taxes.

Making quarterly tax payments? Having enough withheld to cover the taxes or paying the appropriate estimated amount can be especially important to avoid underpayment—and their potential interest penalties.

Tax Tip #9. Check Education Expenses and Invest in a 529

You may be able to take advantage of the tax benefits on education-related costs for your student attending college or another eligible education institution.

Income can play a factor in qualifying for education tax breaks, so check your expected income to see if you can take advantage of those deductions. You may also qualify for educational credits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

Income limits aren’t a factor for contributions to 529 Qualified Tuition Programs, although the amount contributed can’t exceed a state's aggregate contribution limit. The limit is an estimate of the full cost, including tuition, room, and board, for a beneficiary’s undergraduate and graduate education. (American Century’s Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Plan caps the contribution amount per beneficiary at a $455,000 balance.)

Unused balances can also be rolled over to another beneficiary of the same generation in the same family or transferred to a Roth IRA for the beneficiary under the SECURE 2.0 rules.

Many states offer income-tax benefits for residents contributing to 529 plans. If state laws permit, a contributor to your student’s 529 account doesn’t have to be a relative to qualify for a provided tax deduction. However, contributions must be made by December 31 to take advantage of those state deductions.

Tax Tip #10. Make Gifts to the Charities and Loved Ones You Care About

Generosity can be tax smart and help support the causes and people that matter to you.

For example, donating taxable investments to a qualified charitable organization can be a win-win for both of you. When you donate securities in-kind, meaning giving the asset itself instead of proceeds from its sale, you don't pay taxes on any growth in value over what you paid for it—and you might also qualify for a tax deduction.

Along with reviewing the IRS website, talking to a tax professional about this type of gift could be worthwhile.

Gifts to loved ones during your lifetime can be an effective way to reduce your taxable estate, plus have the joy of seeing people benefit from your gifts.

The IRS sets an annual gift-tax exclusion, which allows you to give someone up to a set limit without using your lifetime gift exemption. (For 2023, the IRS allows you to give up to $17,000 per person.)

You can still give more than the annual limit to an individual, but you must report it on Form 709 when you file your taxes , and count it towards your lifetime exemption amount ($12.92 million in 2023).Married couple can double these amounts and gift $34,000 per year to each recipient.

Use These Tax Tips, Help Get Closer to Your Investment Goals

Looking ahead has its benefits.

The earlier you plan with taxes in mind, the easier and less stressful it is to identify—and take advantage of—potential benefits, plus prepare for possible consequences while you still have plenty of time.

And when you can keep your tax bill in check, you’ll have more to invest and progress toward your investment goals.

Find more tax-planning help in our Tax Center.

Let's Talk Taxes

Whenever you make an investment decision, taxes should be a top consideration. We’re here to help.

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.

Before investing, carefully consider the plan's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This information and more about the plan can be found in the Learning Quest Handbook, available by contacting American Century Investment Services, Inc., Distributor, at 1-800-579-2203, and should be read carefully before investing. If you are not a Kansas taxpayer, consider before investing whether the beneficiary's or your home state offers a 529 Plan that provides its taxpayers with state tax and other benefits not available through this plan.

The availability of tax or other state benefits (such as financial aid, scholarship funds and protection from creditors) may be conditioned on meeting certain requirements, such as residency, purpose for or timing of distributions, or other factors.

Notice: Accounts established under Learning Quest and their earnings are neither insured nor guaranteed by the State of Kansas, the Kansas State Treasurer or American Century Investments.

Administered by Kansas State Treasurer Steven Johnson
Managed by American Century Investment Management, Inc.
American Century Investment Services, Inc., Distributor

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.