The old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail is not a quote directly out of the Bible, but it does reflect Biblical concepts. Planning, so long as God is kept in the forefront of those plans, is far more likely to yield blessings than just going through life without serious thought to the future. So why is planning just a few months ahead, knowing that the end of another year is rapidly approaching, so difficult? Let’s make it easy! Here are a few ideas for where to start in September, knowing that December 31 is approaching.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed
Don’t just guess at what your taxes may be. Use an online tax estimator, such as the one at efile.com, or Turbotax’s Turbocaster®. Don’t trust or rely on the results from those forecasters simply because they fall far short of the expertise to give you a final set of numbers for a 1040, but they can give you an idea or an estimate if nothing else. If you start planning now, you may avoid a year-end shock.
Donate now and keep on donating
If you make a charitable contribution in 2018, you may be able to lower your total tax bill when you file your return next year. But check out the articles at our website at www.idlewildfoundation.com in Resources/Giving Help, especially How to Give Wisely in 2018. If you donate stocks, bonds, or property that have appreciated in market value, you may gain substantial tax savings. Donating appreciated stock without selling it first may have a substantial tax benefit.
If you tithe (and you should!), consider this as a possibility. You can make your normal donations for the year but add at the end of the year a prepayment of some or all of next year’s tithe in a lump sum. This may allow you to bunch deductions in a year with higher income, saving taxes and also benefiting your church.
Plan ahead! Find and organize any receipts you have from donating to any charity. In fact, this is something you should do year round. Create a tax-year file and as the donations are made and as the receipts come in, put them in that file. Save yourself time, effort, frustration and money. Even better, open a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Read on because DAFs are a simple and effective way to give!
A DAF offers additional tax planning and investing strategies (and it makes the tax record-gathering a lot easier). Check out the articles on our website at www.idlewildfoundation.com at Ways to Give/Benefits of Asset-Based Giving, and consider making 2018 your year to establish your DAF with the National Christian Foundation.
The IRS provides advice on its website, setting out requirements for donations to be deductible, including: give only to a qualified charity, a 501(c)(3) organization, you must have a receipt or other statement from the charity for your donation, and household items must be in “at least good used condition” to be deductible. Charities will typically mark the receipt that the donations were in good condition regardless of the actual condition. Be honest, give good items and help yourself and the charity of your choice with a meaningful donation. Remember that The Idlewild Foundation is an established 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Your donations to the Foundation do not go to our expenses but instead are used 100% for charitable purposes; we are almost entirely a volunteer organization and our expenses are more than covered by designated donations to the Foundation. Money donated is well-used to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Give without gift tax consequences
You do not need to wait to begin giving to your family and loved ones. See the article on our website at www.idlewildfoundation.com under Resources/For Wise Stewardship, “What Legacy Will You Give?” It takes planning to minimize the tax-bite out of what you want to give or leave to your loved ones. And it is never too early to start that legacy planning. As you can see in the article, you should at least consider giving now rather than later. You can give up to $14,000 each year ($28,000 for a married couple) to as many people as you may want without a tax being due and without those gifts even counting against your lifetime exemption. Consider gifting to your children or grandchildren by the end of the year.
Set a budget for holiday spending
The current estimate is that Americans will spend approximately $1,000 this year on Christmas gifts. That can be a budget-breaker. Plan that spending into your budget, stick to it and avoid impulse buying. If you start early you have a better chance of finding sales and bargains and an even better chance of avoiding being in long lines on December 24. Remember that the expense of Christmas shopping includes gift wrapping as well as travel to and from stores or shipping for online purchases. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend.
Review required RMDs
Review your retirement accounts’ required minimum distributions (RMDs). An RMD is the amount you must withdraw from retirement accounts including your IRAs, SEP IRAs, traditional IRAs and 401ks when you turn age 70.5. If you do not take your RMD, you may face penalties. Consult with your financial advisor who can assist you in calculating your RMD and with setting the withdrawals. Failure to do this subjects you to a whopping penalty. If you don’t need the money and want to avoid the additional income, consider donating the RMD directly to a charity such as The Idlewild Foundation.
Consider discipling your children through giving
Set up a Donor Advised Fund for your children. Money put in a DAF can only come out to an approved charity. They can’t spend it on themselves. Instead they can search and learn about giving to a charity of their choice and learn the joy of giving. Or make your DAF a family fund and make your giving a family project. It allows you as parents to initiate family meetings to discuss giving. What a great opportunity to introduce Biblical concepts of giving. Bring a copy of Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle to the first family meeting and make reading it chapter-by-chapter as an assignment. If you don’t have a copy, call us and we will make a copy available to you at no charge.
The options are endless. Look at it this way, God has been immensely creative in what He has done. His creation is marvelously complex, beautiful and engaging. You were made in His image and can be creative if you open yourself up to the leading of the Holy Spirit. For a few additional ideas, check out the amazing story of the Seibert family. Click here.
a. Your retirement savings
If possible, increase your contribution to your 401(k) or 403(b) by the end of the year to make the most of your retirement savings. For 2018, you can contribute as much as $18,500 (or $24,500 if you are 50 or older) to a 401(k). If you are not at the maximum and you can make it work for you, then maximize your contributions. Make sure that you contribute enough to get the maximum match if your employer matches contributions up to a certain level.
You may also consider contributing to a Roth IRA. You can add as much as $5,500 (or $6,500 if you are 50 or older) assuming your income does not exceed the limits established by law. The limits are somewhat complex so seek expert assistance or call us at (813) 264-8713.
If you contribute to a Roth IRA, you won’t reduce your 2018 taxable income, but it’s still a good idea to see if you can contribute more and up to the maximum by December 31. Contributions are made after tax, with money that has already been taxed, but you generally do not have to pay taxes when you withdraw from your account.
b. Your benefits
Maximize the tax-saving opportunities and keep more of what you earn. There are different medical and dental benefits plans that have different limits, deductibles, carry-forwards, tax implications and timing. Your benefits can be very plain or require more attention and planning and the requirements may change from year to year.
Insurance. If you have reached your insurance deductible, or if you have money left to use up by year end in a cafeteria plan, now and not December is the time to start working on the excess. It is the time to schedule your healthcare needs before your deductible resets. Dental plans often have a maximum coverage amount, so watch out for that. If you haven’t used up the full amount and anticipate treatments, make an appointment before Dec. 31.
Health Savings Account. If you have a health savings account (HSA), try to contribute the maximum: $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for a family in 2018, plus an extra $1,000 if you are age 55 or older. An HSA has great tax benefits. Your contributions are made with pretax dollars so you reduce your current taxable income, and withdrawals are federal-and state-tax free if used to pay for HSA-qualified medical and healthcare expenses. There are costs associated with having an HSA but the benefits should outweigh the costs, especially since the money does not have to be spent by year-end.
Flexible spending accounts. Flexible spending accounts (FSA) are an employment benefit that can deliver tax-free medical, childcare and commuter expenses. But there are strict deadlines and you should be mindful of the problem that unused benefits are lost. If you have a flexible spending account at work, check to see if your employer offers a grace period, often 2½-months, into the following year, to use the previous year’s money or a carryover of up to $500 to be used throughout the following year. Employers are not required to offer those options, but if they do, you have additional time to use the money. If those options are not offered, you must use the available money or lose it.
With a dependent-care FSA you can chose to set aside money on a pretax basis to be used for eligible child-care expenses. Contributions to this type of benefit plan are deducted from your income on a pretax basis, lowering your overall taxable income and saving you money.
Review 2018’s expenses for medical and/or dependent care and look forward to 2019. This will help you choose the right allocations for your FSAs for health and dependent care for 2019. Nothing is ever certain about the future, but an educated guess is better than just “letting it ride.” You do not want to overestimate and not spend money, and you also do not want to contribute too little and forfeit the tax benefits.
Contributions to tax-advantaged savings accounts. If you have a 401(k) or similar retirement plan through work, know how much you have contributed this year to date and, as noted above, maximize it, especially up to the amount matched by your employer, if any.
For those without a 401(k) or retirement plan at work, you may be able to reduce your taxable income by contributing to a traditional IRA to save for retirement. You can contribute up to $5,500 if you are under age 50, and $6,500 if you are age 50 or older. You don’t need to have a job to contribute to an IRA, either. A nonworking spouse, as long as his or her spouse has taxable income up to the contribution limit, can contribute to an IRA. Alimony is also considered income, so a nonworking person receiving alimony may also be able to contribute to an IRA.
SEP-IRAs. For 2018, self-employed individuals can contribute up to $54,000 or 25% of eligible income, whichever is less, to a SEP-IRA. For more details, please see your financial adviser.
c. Your sick and vacation time
Depending on your employer and the employment policies and practices in effect, your sick or vacation time may roll over to the next year or may expire at the end of the year. Your HR department will know the details and any deadlines. If your sick or vacation time does expire, fit in a last-minute vacation, a staycation, or trips to the doctor so you don’t lose this valuable benefit.
Consider a Roth conversion
A Roth IRA is a unique retirement account. You may want to consider converting a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA. While is no tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions, qualified distributions are tax-free. Roth IRAs and conversions from typical IRAs to Roth IRAs generally make sense for investors who expect to be in a higher tax bracket after they begin taking distributions. Low-income years are often be the best opportunity to convert IRA balances to a Roth IRA – you are in a lower tax bracket and so you pay less at the time of conversion. Seek advice from a qualified financial adviser before doing this.
Consider whether you should harvest losses
People who lost money from their investment portfolios in 2018 can offset 100 percent of their gains in 2018 and carry forward up to $3,000 to 2019 and future years. You should review your realized and unrealized gains and losses. Between now and the end of the year, hopefully well before December 31, you need to consider whether it would be helpful to have losses in 2018 or whether you want to wait. Talk with your financial adviser about whether it makes sense for you to “harvest” your losses.
If you are a retiree and are heavily reliant on investments in taxable accounts for income, harvesting is likely worth considering. On the other hand, if you are a retiree with a low level of recurring income and you have a large portfolio in taxable securities, you may want to sell holdings that have appreciated over time. In 2018, taxpayers in the 10 percent and 15 percent income brackets can realize long-term capital gains (or receive qualified dividends) without being taxed. If you are in the 15 percent or lower tax bracket for ordinary income, under the tax code as it now is written, your long-term capital gains bracket is zero.
These are some steps you should at least consider as you step closer to the end of 2018. The sooner you start, the less frantic you will be when you get to December. For additional information, call The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40 year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.