By Michael Vaughn, CFP®
When most people hear “tax planning,” they think of a boring, tedious activity that is usually done by your tax advisor or financial professional. But if you like saving money (and who doesn’t?), one of the best ways is by minimizing your tax liability. There are many ways to save on taxes—and it can get fairly complex.
Depending on your financial situation, it’s wise to consider working with a trusted financial advisor to help you create a customized plan. So if you want to keep more of what you earn by decreasing your tax liability and increasing your savings, keep reading for our top 10 tax-planning strategies for 2024.
1. Maximize Your Retirement Contributions
Maximizing your retirement contributions is one of the best ways to minimize your tax liability. This is because retirement plans offer useful tax advantages that are not available if you were to simply put your money in a savings account. There are several accounts to consider, depending on your unique circumstances:
- 401(k), 403(b), and 457 Plans: These accounts allow you to contribute up to $23,000 annually for 2024 ($30,500 if over age 50). Not only that but contributions done pre-tax won’t show up as part of your annual income. This is a great way to defer taxes until your retirement years when you could potentially be in a lower tax bracket.
- Traditional IRA: Contributing to a traditional IRA is another way to reduce your tax liability if your income is within certain limits. You can contribute up to $6,500 for 2023 and $7,000 for 2024, with a $1,000 catch-up contribution limit for those over age 50. Unlike the qualified retirement plans listed above, contributions to a traditional IRA can be made until the April 15th tax filing deadline.
- Roth IRA: This is an attractive savings vehicle for many reasons, including no required minimum distributions (RMDs), tax-free withdrawals after age 59½, and the ability to pass wealth tax-free to your heirs. The contribution limits are the same as traditional IRAs. However, Roth IRAs have income restrictions and you may not be able to open an account outright if you are above certain limits.
2. Consider Roth Conversions
If you are outside of the income eligibility threshold for Roth IRAs but still want to take advantage of the Roth tax benefits, a Roth conversion could be the right strategy for you. It works by paying the income tax on your pre-tax traditional IRA and converting the funds to a Roth IRA.
You could also consider the mega backdoor Roth and backdoor Roth IRA strategies:
- Mega Backdoor Roth: With this strategy, you would convert a portion of your 401(k) plan to a Roth. This involves first maximizing the after-tax, non-Roth contributions in your plan, then rolling it over to either a Roth 401(k) or your Roth IRA. With the mega backdoor Roth, you convert a portion of your 401(k) plan to Roth dollars.
- Backdoor Roth IRA: In this case, you would make an after-tax (non-deductible) contribution to a traditional IRA. You then immediately convert the funds to a Roth IRA to prevent any earnings from accumulating. This strategy makes sense if you don’t already have an IRA set up yet.
All three Roth conversion strategies will allow the contributions to grow completely tax-free and allow you to avoid future RMDs, which is helpful if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the future.
3. Contribute to a Health Savings Account
An efficient but underutilized way to maximize your savings and minimize your taxes is to contribute to a health savings account (HSA). HSAs offer triple tax savings: contributions are tax-deductible, earnings grow tax-free, and you can withdraw the funds tax-free to pay for medical expenses. Unused funds roll over each year and will essentially become an IRA at age 65, at which point you can withdraw funds penalty-free for non-medical expenses. You must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan to qualify for an HSA.
HSAs can be a great tax-management tool if you can pay medical expenses out of pocket and leave the HSA funds to grow. The 2023 contribution limits for HSAs are $3,850 for individuals and $7,750 for families. (The 2024 limits increased to $4,150 and $8,300, respectively.) If you are 55 or older, you may also be able to make catch-up contributions of $1,000 per year. You have until April 15th for your contributions to count for the previous year’s tax return.
4. Contribute to a Donor-Advised Fund
If you itemize your tax deductions because of charitable contributions, you may want to consider investing in a donor-advised fund (DAF). You can contribute a lump sum all at once and then distribute those funds to various charities over several years. With this strategy, you can itemize deductions when you make the initial contribution and then take the standard deduction in the following years, allowing you to make the most out of your donation tax-wise.
You can also donate appreciated stock, which can further maximize your tax savings. By donating the appreciated position, you avoid paying the capital gain tax that would have been due upon sale of the stock and you are effectively donating more to your charities of choice than if you had sold the stock and donated the proceeds.
5. Make a Qualified Charitable Donation
If you own a qualified retirement account and are at least 70½, you can use a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) to receive a tax benefit for your charitable giving. Since this is an above-the-line deduction, it can be used in conjunction with other charitable tax strategies. A QCD is a distribution made from your retirement account directly to your charity of choice. It can also count toward your RMD when you turn age 73, but unlike RMDs, it won’t count toward your taxable income. Individuals can donate up to $100,000 in QCDs per year, which means a married couple can contribute a combined amount of $200,000!
6. Utilize Tax-Loss Harvesting
Tax-loss harvesting involves selling investments at a loss to offset the gains in your portfolio. By realizing a capital loss, you can counterbalance the taxes owed on capital gains. The investments that are sold are usually replaced with similar securities to maintain the desired asset allocation and expected return.
With the ups and downs the market experienced in 2023, chances are you have some capital losses that can be utilized. For example, if you are expecting a large capital gain this year, sell an underperforming stock and harvest the losses to offset your gain.
Tax-loss harvesting can also be used to reduce your ordinary income tax liability if capital losses exceed capital gains. In this case, up to $3,000 can be deducted from your income, and capital losses above this amount can be carried forward to later tax years.
7. Understand Long-Term vs. Short-Term Capital Gains
Understanding the tax implications of long-term versus short-term capital gains can go a long way in reducing your tax liability. For instance, in 2023 a married taxpayer would have paid 0% capital gains tax on their long-term capital gains if their taxable income falls below $89,250. That rate jumps to 15% and 20% for taxable incomes that exceed $89,250 and $553,850, respectively. Understanding where you fall on the tax table is an important part of minimizing your liability.
Gains that are short-term in nature (held less than one year) will be taxed at your marginal tax bracket, which could be up to 37%! Knowing both the nature of your gain, as well as your tax bracket, is crucial information if you want to minimize your tax liability.
8. Take a Qualified Business Income Deduction
Business owners involved in partnerships, S corporations, or sole proprietorships can take a qualified business income deduction (QBID) to help reduce taxable income and maximize tax savings. This allows for a maximum deduction of 20% of qualified business income, but limits apply if your taxable income exceeds a certain threshold. To qualify for this deduction, consider reducing or deferring income so that you can remain below the phase-out threshold. A great way to do this is to maximize your retirement contributions to tax-advantaged accounts (as discussed in point #1).
9. Consider Estate Tax-Planning Techniques
Estate tax-planning techniques can also be an effective way to reduce current-year tax liability. For 2024, the lifetime exemption for assets that can be given gift-tax-free is estimated at $13.61 million for individuals and $27.22 for married couples (12.92 million for 2023).
The annual gift tax exclusion increased to $18,000 per recipient in 2024, up from $17,000 in 2023. This is the annual amount taxpayers can give tax-free without using any of the above-mentioned lifetime exemptions. Not only that, but the annual exclusion applies on a per-person basis, so each taxpayer can give $18,000 per person to any number of people per year.
Though gifting and other estate tax-planning strategies are not tax-deductible, they can help to significantly reduce your taxable estate over time.
10. Make Sure Your Advisory Team Is Working Together
Beyond consulting with a tax professional, you’ll want to be sure your entire financial team is working together to provide cohesive oversight and guidance. This should include professionals like CPA sestate attorneys, and myself. Your finances don’t exist in a bubble and so neither will your tax-minimization strategies. I’m glad to consult with your tax person and estate attorney to find the best strategies for implement and reduce your tax bill.
Start Saving Today
While tax planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated if you’re working with an experienced advisor. At Pinnacle Family Advisors, our goal is to make our clients’ wealth work for them—not the other way around. This includes finding ways to minimize your tax liability and maximize your savings.
If this sounds like something you’d like help with, we would love to hear from you. Schedule your complimentary introductory meeting by emailing me at [email protected], calling (417) 351-2942, or using my online calendar.
Michael Vaughn is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Vice President at Pinnacle Family Advisors (PFA) with 23 years of industry experience. Before joining the PFA family, he served clients with investment management and retirement planning at The Mutual Fund Store for 14 years. Michael graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management and earned his CFP® certification in 2004. He also served 20 years in the Missouri National Guard, retiring in 2007 as a Major. He currently volunteers on the board of directors for Good Dads and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Michael is married to Lori and they have two daughters. To learn more about Michael, connect with him on LinkedIn.