Part 2 of 3
Flexible Spending Account: Increase the amount you set aside for next year in your employer's health flexible spending account (FSA) if you set aside too little for this year. Don't forget that you cannot set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin and antacids (2010 is the last year that FSAs can be used for nonprescription drugs).
Selling Securities: As you evaluate investments held in your taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the impact of selling appreciated securities this year instead of next year. The maximum federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains from 2010 sales is 15%. However, that low 15% rate only applies to gains from securities that have been held for at least a year and a day. In 2011, the maximum rate on long-term capital gains is scheduled to increase to 20%. That will happen automatically unless Congress takes action, which looks increasingly unlikely right now. On the other hand, selling enough loser securities to create a big net capital loss that exceeds what you can use this year might turn out to be a pretty good idea. You can carry forward the excess net capital loss to 2011 and beyond and use it to shelter both short-term gains and long-term gains recognized in those years.
Energy Saving Home Improvements: Make energy saving improvements to your main home, such as putting in extra insulation or installing energy saving windows or buying and installing an energy efficient furnace, and qualify for a 30% tax credit. The total (aggregate) credit for energy efficient improvements to the home in 2009 and 2010 is $1,500. Unless Congress acts, this tax break won't be around after this year. Additionally, substantial tax credits are available for installing energy generating equipment (such as solar electric panels or solar hot water heaters) to your home. This break stays on the books through 2016.
Converting Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA: Convert your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA if doing so is expected to produce better long-term tax results for you and your beneficiaries. Distributions from a Roth IRA can be tax-free, but the conversion will increase your adjusted gross income for 2010. However, you will have the choice of when to pay the tax on the conversion. You can either (1) pay the tax on the conversion when you file your 2010 return in 2011, or (2) pay half the tax on the conversion when you file your 2011 return in 2012, and the other half when you file your 2012 return in 2013.
Qualified Small Business Stock: Purchase qualified small business stock (QSBS) before the end of this year. There is no tax on gain from the sale of such stock if it is (1) purchased after September 27, 2010 and before January 1, 2011, and (2) held for more than five years. In addition, such sales won't cause AMT preference problems. To qualify for these breaks, the stock must be issued by a regular (C) corporation with total gross assets of $50 million or less, and a number of other technical requirements must be met. Our office can fill you in on the details.
IRA Distributions: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retired plan) if you have reached age 70 1/2. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount not withdrawn. A temporary tax law change waived the RMD requirement for 2009 only, but the usual withdrawal rules apply in full force for 2010. So, individuals age 70 1/2 or older generally must take the required distribution amount out of their retirement account before the end of 2010 to avoid the penalty. If you turned age 70 1/2 in 2010, you can delay the required distribution to 2011, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2011—the amount required for 2010 plus the amount required for 2011. Think twice before delaying 2010 distributions to 2011—bunching income into 2011 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels.
Gift Tax: Make annual exclusion gifts before year-end to save gift tax (and estate tax if it is reinstated). You can give $13,000 in 2010 or 2011 to an unlimited number of individuals free of gift tax. However, you can't carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. The transfers also may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.
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