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With only a few weeks left in 2019, now is a great time to review your personal situation and consider any year-end adjustments to minimize your short and long-term tax liability. We have identified six year-end planning strategies you can use to minimize your tax burden.

Maximize Your Retirement Account Contributions 

If you have a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 retirement account you can contribute up to $19,000 ($25,000 if you are over the age of 50) for 2019. Contributions to any of these plans must be made before January 1st to apply to 2019.

You can also contribute up to $6000 ($7000 if you are over the age of 50) to a traditional or Roth IRA for 2019 depending on your income. Contributions to traditional or Roth IRAs can be made up until April 15th of next year and still be applied to your 2019 contributions.

If you qualify for a Health Savings Account you should max out your contributions to the HSA before making further contributions to your other retirement accounts. This is because HSAs allow for a tax deduction for your contributions, tax-free growth of the assets in your account, and tax-free distributions when used for medical expenses. With significant medical expenses almost guaranteed later in life, an HSA combines the best of both traditional and Roth retirement accounts. For more on HSAs read “Six Myths About Health Savings Accounts

Take Advantage of Tax-Free Capital Gains

If your taxable income is below $39,375 ($78,750 if you file a joint return) then your long-term capital gains tax rate is 0%. If your taxable income is below these thresholds and you own stocks or other investments that have appreciated in value you can take advantage of this 0% tax rate to sell your investment without paying any federal income taxes. If the sale of your investment pushes your taxable income above the thresholds for the 0% bracket you will pay 15% on the amounts above the threshold but will not pay taxes on the amount up to the threshold.  While capital gains below these income thresholds are tax-free, the proceeds from the sales will still increase your taxable income for the calculation of certain tax credits such as the premium tax credit for health insurance. If you are currently receiving the premium tax credit, selling your investments could reduce the amount of the credit that you qualify for.

Set Up a Donor Advised Fund

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction while also limiting or removing various itemized deductions. As a result of these changes a much greater percentage of taxpayers will be taking the standard deduction between now and 2025 when the tax cuts expire. This also means that meaningful charitable donations may have little impact on your tax return. This is because a much larger portion of your charitable deduction is being used to reach the standard deduction threshold before you can realize any tax savings.


One way you can work around this new limitation is to set up a donor advised fund. With a donor advised fund you can make a large contribution to the fund in one year and then make donations out of the fund to your charities of choice over the course of several years. With a donor advised fund you get a tax deduction in the year you contribute to the fund, regardless of when the fund distributes money to a charity.  For example, if you typically give $5,000 each year to your church you can instead contribute $15,000 now to a donor advised fund and then pay $5,000 out of the fund each year for the next 3 years and then refill the fund at the end of the 3rd year. By bunching your contributions into every 3rd year you can prevent the bulk of your charitable donations from being absorbed by the standard deduction threshold.

Consider a Roth Conversion

Contributing to a traditional IRA or 401(k) provides tax savings today by pushing the tax liability into your retirement years. This strategy can make sense when you are likely to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement. But with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we are currently in one of the lowest tax environments our country has seen in decades. With that in mind there is no guarantee that you will be in a lower tax bracket at retirement. And with our national debt growing at an accelerating pace you could be in a higher tax bracket when you retire even if your income is lower than it is today.

With higher tax rates likely in the future, you may want to consider converting some of your 401(k) or traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA, paying taxes now in today's low tax environment in order to realize tax-free distributions later in retirement. You can convert your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA even if you are above the income limit to make a normal contribution to a Roth IRA. You will also not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty you would otherwise face when taking early distributions from a traditional IRA.

Take out Your Required Minimum Distributions

Once you turn 70 ½ you are required to take a minimum amount out of your traditional IRA, 401(k) or other retirement account each year based on your age and the balance of the account. Roth IRAs are the sole exception to RMDs. The IRS provides a worksheet to calculate the amount of your Required Minimum Distributions. Failure to take out the RMDs will result in a 50% tax on the amount that was not taken out.  In the year that you turn 70 ½ the deadline to take your RMDs is April 1 of the following year. Each year after that the deadline is December 31 of that year. If you are over the age of 70 ½ you should take the time to review your RMDs and make sure you have taken enough out to avoid these substantial penalties.

Use Your RMDs to Make Your Charitable Donations

Once you turn 70 ½ you can begin making charitable donations directly out of your traditional IRA. When you make a charitable donation directly from your IRA you will not pay any income taxes on the distribution. This will allow you to fully deduct your charitable donations even if you do not itemize your deductions. You can also use qualified charitable donations to satisfy your required minimum distributions.


December is a great time to review your financial situation and determine if there are any year-end adjustments you should make, as there should be very few income surprises between now and year-end. Taking the time to review your situation and applying some of the strategies we just shared could help you significantly reduce your short and long-term tax liabilities. 


Failing to order your affairs to minimize your tax burden could cost you significant money - so don't wait to take action. If you have additional questions or need some planning help, please reach out to us.

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