Posts Tagged ‘individual retirement account’

What to learn from your 2010 Return

Posted on: April 19th, 2011 by

Eric L. Bach & Associates, Rockville, MDSo your 2010 taxes are done, or they should be if you didn’t file an extension.  But, as we all know, nothing is certain except death and taxes, so you might as well start planning for next year.  While you actually have your 2010 tax forms and documents handy, this is the perfect time to analyze last year’s finances and use those insights to lower your taxes in 2011.   The sooner you get started, the more you can save.  Here are 5 easy steps that you can follow to start your saving:

1. Avoid a Big Tax Refund

You think it’s fantastic when you get a tax refund, right?  Wrong.  A refund is really just the return of a year-long, interest-free loan that you graciously extended to that thrifty spender known as Uncle Sam.  Even with interest rates in the toilet, earning some money is better than none at all, right?

You can do much smarter things with that money, like putting it into a retirement plan or a college savings fund, or maybe paying down outstanding debt.  So if you will be receiving a 2010 refund of more than a few thousand dollars and you’re an employee, adjust your withholding at work.  If you’re self-employed, lower your quarterly estimated tax payments accordingly.

2. Save More in Your Retirement Plan

If you are not maxing out your employer-sponsored, tax-deferred retirement plan, you’re missing out on the single best opportunity to save on taxes.  The idea of saving more may be difficult, especially as the costs of gas and food are soaring.  But if you can squeeze just an extra 1 or 2 percent out of your paycheck and pour that cash into the plan, you’ll reduce your taxable income and your 2011 tax bill.

Doing so might also bring your income under certain thresholds that will let you qualify for bigger tax breaks you’d otherwise miss — such as personal exemptions, itemized deductions, an Individual Retirement Account, the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

3. Look into Muni Bonds and Funds

If you have money in interest-paying bank accounts, CDs, money market funds, or taxable bonds or bond funds, you could be adding to your tax liability.  High-income taxpayers need to be especially concerned, since their tax liability could rise with the 2012 expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts.  You may want to consider moving some of those taxable savings and investments into tax-free municipal bond funds. (Yes, those same bonds that Meredith Whitney trash-talked on “60 Minutes.”) Since that time, investors have been bailing out of municipal bonds, fearing that states, towns and municipalities could default on their obligations.  That exodus has forced prices down and yields up.

4. Lower Your Mutual Fund Taxes

Now that stock and bond markets have recovered from their bear-market lows, be on the lookout for mutual fund taxable distributions.  A distribution is one of the most aggravating features of a managed mutual fund: You are on the hook for capital gains on the fund’s investments as well as the fund’s tax liability.  You may even be taxed on gains the fund incurred before you owned it!  One way to limit the damage before you invest is to ask the fund company if it will be making a distribution soon.  If the answer is “yes,” hold off buying until afterward.  Or you might invest in funds with low turnover ratios, such as index funds, since they’ll be less likely to throw off taxable distributions.  A turnover ratio below 10 percent is generally tax-efficient.

5. Keep Better Tax Records

Organizing your tax records might not only lower your tax liability, it could help you get rid of the tax-filing headache sooner.  Create a file called “Taxes 2011” and throughout the year toss all your paperwork into it: business receipts; bank, brokerage, and mutual fund statements; W-2s; 1099s; property tax bills; and mortgage interest statements.  Also keep track of your purchase price, commission, and sales price for any investment transactions in 2011.  You’ll be much happier come April 2012.

And while you’re in the organizing groove, now is the perfect time to purge your files of unnecessary statements and documents.  Get ready to shred!

Playing Retirement Catch-Up

Posted on: April 1st, 2010 by

Financial Planning - Rockville, MDYour in your 50s and  haven’t saved a dime for retirement, but you have a job – Don’t panic.  You still have time to make up some ground.  It will require you to make significant changes in your lifestyle now, but they certainly won’t be as painful as the changes you would have to make if you continue to put it off.  Any financial planner will tell you that its never too late to start.

You have to start by saving.  And that doesn’t mean just cutting out your daily Starbucks, that means saving, at the very least, 10% of your gross income.  You can do this one of two ways: First, you can pay down high-interest debt that isn’t already tax-deductible – namely credit cards.  Or, you can just start socking funds away.

Make sure to take full advantage of the tax codes (see your CPA or financial adviser) when putting your funds away to maximize your return.  Take full advantage of your company’s 401(k) plan in which contributions are excluded from  your current year’s income.  Investments in such retirement funds grow tax-deferred until they are withdrawn.  If your company does not offer a 401(k), open an individual retirement account at a mutual fund company or brokerage.  If you don’t  have an employer pension plan, you can put away up to $6,000 pre-tax each year.  You can also fund tax-advantaged retirement savings with a second job or side business.  Starting a side business is a good way to maintain income into your retirement as well.  You may be able to put your earnings into a special savings plan for the self-employed.  As for investing your retirement funds, if you are not well versed in the options, you should speak with an experienced financial adviser to help figure out how and where to invest.

The biggest disadvantage you have to starting your retirement savings late is that you lose out on what would have been compounding interest in the previous years.  But even if you are in your 50s, you are still going to be able to take advantage of compounding interest on your investments.  Since retirement is estimated to last upwards of 20 years, your investments will still compound and may even double (at a rate of 5%, investments are estimated to double in 15 years).  So if you you haven’t started saving yet, now is as good a time as any.