How much do you keep of what you earn? 2013 Tax Plan

Have you noticed “The IRS” spells “Theirs”?  Paying tax is required.  How much you pay is determined, in part, by how you plan.

If you are married, or plan to be, for the 2013 Federal tax year, now is the time to look at your potential tax liability and determine your financial plan. Nobody wants to find out at the end of year that they owe taxes when there is little time to do anything about it.

The U.S. uses a graduated tax rate, which means that the tax rate increases as the income goes up.

There are five filing statuses:

  • Single (S)
  • Married Filing Joint (MFJ)
  • Married Filing Separate (MFS)
  • Head of Household (HOH)
  • Qualifying Widow (er) with Dependent Child (Q/W)

More than one filing status can apply to you. You can choose the one that gives you the lowest combined tax.

Generally, Married Filing Joint will result in the lowest amount of tax. There are exceptions and good tax planning involves reviewing “what if” scenarios.

Are you “withholding” enough to cover the estimated tax liability by the end of the year? If not, you need to either increase your withholding or use other methods, such as deferring income, to decrease the estimated amount owed.

The following will help you get started:

Filing Single is the easiest. All you need to decide is if you are going to save more money by using the Standard Deduction or to itemize deductions.

Married Filing Joint (MFJ) can be used if:

You are married on the last day of the year

Both you and your spouse report all your income, exemptions, deductions, and payments

Both spouses must sign the tax return because both of you may be held responsible for accurate reporting and tax payment

Married Filing Separate

Report your income, exemptions, credits, and deductions

Different rules apply if you live in a community property state. See Publication 555

You will “generally” pay more combined tax on Married Filing Separate returns than you would on Married Filing Joint returns for the reasons listed under “Special Rules” in IRS Publication 501

Some of the “Special Rules” include:

If your spouse itemizes deductions, generally, you cannot take the standard deduction

You cannot take the student loan interest deduction, the tuition and fees deduction, the education credits, or the earned income credit.

There are reasons why you might want to choose the Married Filing Separate (MFS) status:

  • You only want to be responsible for the accuracy and the payment of your tax liability
  • If your Adjusted Gross Income  (AGI) is lower by filing MFS than MFJ you may be able to deduct a larger amount for certain deductions that are limited by AGI such as medical expenses. For the 2012 tax year, you can deduct only the part of your medical and dental expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your Adjusted Gross Income. This increased to 10% for 2013.
  • Head of Household is for unmarried, or are considered unmarried, you provide a home for certain persons, and you meet the criteria by passing one of two tests. Detailed information can be found at IRS.Gov.

Tax rules are complicated and this is by no means comprehensive. Hopefully, it is enough to encourage you to look at your tax situation and to take action so you are not surprised with a big tax bill next year. A large return because of overpayment equates to giving the IRS an “interest free loan”.

Suggestions:

Use the 2012 tax rules to estimate your 2013 income and the amount of federal tax withheld

If it appears that you will either owe or have a possible large refund, consider filing a new W-4, the Employee withholding Allowance Certificate, with your employer

Reasons to change the amount withheld may include a change in your marital status or your dependents. Perhaps, you bought a house this year and know you will have enough deductions to itemize rather than use the standard deduction. Maybe, because of multiple jobs, too much is being withheld from your checks.

You work hard for your money. Don’t you want to keep as much as you can? After all, it is yours, not all theirs.

To Plan – It Helps to Understand – Financially

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“Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn” – Deb Fox

One of my goals is to make the seemingly complex, simple.  With that in mind, I offer you an IRS Federal Tax primer.

To plan, financially, it helps to understand that not all numbers are created equal. Some numbers provide more benefit than others.

My hope is that this primer will serve as a good tool to refer back to when I write about other tax topics.

The Visual:

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

The Narrative:

Income includes all income except income that is exempt by law

Deductions reduce your tax liability by reducing the amount of income that is taxable

Income minus Above the Line deductions equals Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

  • Above the Line deductions include, in part, monies paid for:
  1. Health Savings Account
  2. IRA Deduction
  3. Qualified Student Loan Interest
  4. Self-employed health insurance or qualified pension plans

Adjusted Gross Income minus either the Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions

  • Use the highest number
  • The 2012 Federal Standard Deduction for Single of Married Filing Separate was $5950; $11,900 for Married Filing Joint or Qualified Widower; $8,700 for Head of Household

Then subtract $3,800 for each 2012 qualified Exemption = Taxable Income

  • Exemptions include you, your spouse, & qualified dependents

Taxable Income minus Allowable Credits

  • Credits are either Refundable or Non-Refundable
  • Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability below zero – IRS pays you
  • Non-Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability to zero

Refundable Credits Include:

  • Earned Income credit
  • Child Tax credit
  • The American Opportunity Tax credit

Non-Refundable Credits include:

  • Adoption credit
  • Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)
  • Lifetime Learning credit

Takeaways:

  • Above the Line deductions are more valuable than Below the Line deductions because they are available to all taxpayers and are not subject to income limitation phase-outs
  • Deductions reduce the amount of income subject to tax
  • Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you pay
  • Tax planning can help you reduce your tax liability and keep more of your money
  • Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn.

Keep marching toward Financial Freedom. Happy Planning!