Winds of tax reform are blowing in Washington, but nothing has happened yet. In the meantime, take advantage of tax breaks currently on the books, including these 17 items:
1. Capital losses: If you realized capital gains from securities sales earlier this year, you can start harvesting losses. Your losses will go to offset capital gains you realize in 2017 plus up to $3,000 of highly taxed ordinary income.
2. Capital gains: Long-term capital gains that aren't offset by losses will be taxed at a maximum rate of only 15% (20% if you're in the top ordinary income tax bracket). But some upper-income investors also may owe a 3.8% tax on investment income.
3. 401(k) contributions: Reduce your tax liability by boosting contributions to a 401(k) plan. For 2017, the maximum deferral is $18,000 ($24,000 if age 50 or over). Not only do you avoid tax on the contributions, the money in your account compounds on a tax-deferred basis.
4. Roth conversions: This may be a good time to convert funds in a traditional IRA to a Roth. Future Roth IRA distributions are tax-free if they meet certain conditions. And though you'll owe income tax on the amount you convert, transferring the funds over several years could reduce the overall tax bite.
5. Higher education: Is your child going to college in the fall? Generally, you can claim one of two higher education tax credits, subject to phaseouts based on income. A tuition deduction, also off-limits to most high-income families, expired after 2016 but could be revived.
6. Monetary gifts: If you give money to charities this year—by check, credit card, or online—the donation generally is deductible in 2017. But you must observe strict recordkeeping requirements for charitable gifts of $250 or more.
7. Wash sales: If you acquire substantially identical securities within 30 days of taking a loss on a sale, you can't deduct the loss. Avoid this "wash sale" rule by waiting at least 31 days to buy back the same securities—or you might buy the securities first and wait at least 31 days before selling the original shares.
8. Dividend-paying stocks: Most stock dividends are taxed at the same preferential tax rates as long-term capital gains. To qualify for this tax break, you must hold the shares for at least 61 days.
9. Installment sales: Generally, you can defer tax on the sale of real estate or other property if you receive payments over two years or longer. Besides stretching out tax payments, you might reduce the effective tax rate if you stay below the thresholds for higher capital gains rates and the 3.8% tax.
10. Hiring your child: Does your child need a summer job? If you hire the child to work at your business, the wages are deductible by the business and taxable to your child at his or her low tax rate.
11. Qualified small business stock: If you invest in qualified small business stock (QSBS) of a fledgling company (perhaps your own) and hold it for at least five years before selling it, you can exclude 100% of any gain.
12. Vacation homes: When you rent out your vacation home, you can write off specified rental activity costs, plus depreciation, but be careful: If your personal use of the rental home exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days the home is rented out, deductions are limited to the amount of your rental income.
13. Dependency exemptions: Generally, you can claim a $4,050 dependency exemption for a child graduating from college this spring if you provide more than 50% of the child's annual support. Figure out the amount needed to clear the half-support mark.
14. Charitable gifts of property: Give furniture and clothing in good condition to charity. You normally can deduct the fair market value of property donated to a qualified organization, within certain limits.
15. Dependent care credit: If you pay expenses for the care of your under-age-13 child this year while you (and your spouse, if married) work, you may qualify for the dependent care credit. Note that the cost of summer day camp qualifies, but not overnight camp.
16. Like-kind exchanges: If you swap investment or business real estate you own for like-kind property, the exchange is tax-free, except to the extent you receive any "boot" (e.g., additional money) in the deal. Caution: The IRS imposes timing requirements for this tax break.
17. Estimated taxes: Check to see if you're withholding enough income tax from your paychecks. Make necessary adjustments to avoid owing an "estimated tax penalty" in 2017.
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