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Tax Planning

With roughly 6 weeks to go until we can say goodbye to 2020, 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 five 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 $19,500 ($26,000 if you are over the age of 50) for 2020. Contributions to any of these plans must be made before January 1st to apply to 2020.

Before you contribute to your 401(k) you should watch our 4-minute video Why 401k Plans Are Sub-Optimal.

You can also contribute up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are over the age of 50) to a traditional or Roth IRA for 2020 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 2020 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 $40,000 (80,000 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 by selling your investments with long-term capital gains and not pay 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 choose to contribute $15,000 now to a donor advised fund and distribute $5,000 out of the fund each year for the next 3 years. 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. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has created 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 skyrocketing, you could find yourself 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. With the results of the 2020 election, time could be running out to take advantage of the low tax rates.

For more information on why a Roth conversion may be a limited time opportunity watch our 3-minute video Tax Efficient Retirement Planning.


Converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA is an option for everyone, even if you are above the income threshold to make a normal contribution to a Roth IRA. You will also not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty you would face when taking early distributions from a traditional IRA.

For more information on why a Roth IRA could be the right choice watch our 4-minute video The Big Picture

Return Your Required Minimum Distributions

If you are over the age of 70 ½  then you are required to withdraw a certain amount from your traditional IRA each year through Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). These RMDs can create an unwelcome tax liability. Fortunately, as part of the CARES Act, all RMDs for 2020 have been waived. This means that if you have not yet taken your RMDs for 2020 you can choose not to take any for the year. If you already took your RMDs for the year then you have a few potential options to undo them.

Option 1: Indirect Rollover

When you take funds out of your IRA you have 60 days to either return the funds to the original IRA or invest them in another IRA through what is referred to as an indirect rollover. If you return the funds or reinvest them in another IRA within the 60 days you can avoid any taxes or penalties that would have otherwise been due on the distribution. You can only complete one indirect IRA rollover per year.

Option 2: Coronavirus-Related Distribution

If you took your RMDs earlier in the year and can no longer qualify for a 60-day rollover, you may still be able to undo your RMDs by qualifying them as a coronavirus-related distribution (CVD). With CVDs you can take up to $100,000 from your traditional IRA at any point in 2020 and you have 3 years from the date of the distribution to recontribute the funds and avoid paying income taxes. If you don’t recontribute the funds you can also choose to spread the tax liability over the next 3 years instead of paying it all on your 2020 return. To qualify a distribution as a CVD you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. You are diagnosed with COVID-19 using a test approved by the CDC

  2. Your spouse or dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19 using a CDC-approved test

  3. You are experiencing adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by you due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the secretary of the Treasury.

As you can see, even if you do not meet either of the first two criteria, just about anyone in the United States should be able to qualify under the third criteria given that almost every state issued a shelter-in-place order earlier this year. By reclassifying your RMD as a CVD you can either avoid the taxes altogether by recontributing your distribution within the next 3 years, though we would recommend recontributing before the end of the year to keep everything simple, or spread the tax burden of the distribution over a 3-year period.


Now 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. 

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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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