How To Prepare For Tax Season
By Brett Gottlieb and John Mc Kean
If given a choice between the two, would you rather file your taxes or go without your phone for a week? There is a good chance you may be among the 28% of Americans who would gladly give up your cell phone just to avoid dealing with your taxes. To add to the fun of tax season, the new Tax Cuts & Jobs Act means that we have a slew of new tax reforms to decipher and a new 1040 form to figure out. As is usually the case, what is intended to simplify filing taxes for some has complicated it for others, with six new schedules to fill out, depending on your situation.
No matter how you tend to feel about tax season and the recent changes, the fact is that taxes are unavoidable. The fastest way to shake this added stress is to get everything in order now so you can get back to focusing on things you love instead. Don’t let yourself be one of the 29 million people who stretch out the anxiety of tax season and file their taxes at the last minute. Start preparing now and eliminate some of this looming stress by following these four steps.
1. Organize Your Documents
For most of us, preparing our taxes usually means piles and piles of paperwork. However, the best way to avoid mistakes or missing possible deductions is to get all your documents well organized before you start filling out your forms. You will want to be sure you have your copy of the most commonly needed documents that apply to you, such as:
- W-2, 1099, or other records of income
- Records of charitable contributions over $250
- Information from prior years’ tax returns
- Rental income
- Mortgage interest and property taxes paid
- Dividend income
- Childcare costs
- Medical expenses
One helpful tip is to make a master list of all the forms and documents you need. You can even use last year’s return to remind you what your unique situation requires. As each document arrives in the mail, check it off and add it to your organizer. Your efforts to clear up some of the chaos today will make filing much faster and easier in the end. To help you out, we have created a handy checklist for you.
2. Take Advantage Of Deductions And Credits
Benjamin Franklin may have declared that “nothing is certain except death and taxes,” but that does not mean you cannot do your best to reduce your tax bill. Fortunately, there are multiple credits and deductions that will not only benefit you this tax season but also serve to give your financial future a boost.
Make Deductions Work For You
Just because we have turned the calendar to 2019 does not mean you cannot maximize your retirement savings and still reap the rewards on your 2018 taxes. In fact, for the 2018 tax year, you have until April 15th to contribute to HSAs, Roth and traditional IRAs, SEP IRAs and self-employed 401(k)s.
Contributions to HSAs (health savings accounts) are an excellent option to reduce your total Federal taxable income. The 2018 contribution limits for HSAs are $3,450 for an individual or $6,900 for a family, and for 2019 are $3,500 and $7,000 respectively. You can also make a $1,000 catch-up contribution for each year if you are over 55.
Roth and traditional IRAs also help reduce total taxable income by allowing contributions up to $5,500 for 2018 and up to $6,000 for 2019. If you are over 50, you have a catch up contribution of an additional $1,000. If you are self employed, be sure to check with your tax professional for your options.
One thing to note, if your employer offers a 401(k), your 2018 contribution limit is $18,500. If you did not maximize your contributions for 2018, consider increasing them for 2019. The new limits for this year are $19,000, and if you are over 50, you can also take advantage of catch-up contributions of an additional $6,000. If you do not have the opportunity to save through an employer-sponsored plan, you may still be able to invest in an IRA, depending on your income.
There are also some additional deductions that may apply to you, such as state sales tax on major purchases, student loan interest, and medical and dental expenses. However, due to the new higher standard deduction, itemizing your taxes and applying these deductions may not work in your favor. Be sure to speak to a professional about tax strategies that will maximize your deductions under the new tax laws.
Research Applicable Credits
Filing taxes can be painful, but depending on your situation, you may be able to benefit from a variety of credits if you know where to look. Many Americans qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and if you or your children attend post-secondary education, you could benefit from the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. There are also credits for saving for retirement and child and dependent care. A qualified CPA will know what questions to ask and what to look for so you do not miss out on any opportunities to minimize your tax bill.
3. Reevaluate Your Filing Status
Have you experienced a significant life change this year, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child? Any of these milestones will affect your filing status, which determines your tax rates, deductions, and eligibility for credits. Make sure you are filing under the correct status so you do not face unnecessary penalties or taxes.
4. Find A Professional You Can Trust
Did you know that around 60% of Americans use a tax professional to help with taxes? And that is not without good reason! Working with a qualified and experienced accountant can make your tax season experience as seamless and stress-free as possible. They have the knowledge to help you claim all the deductions you deserve, account for many variables unique to your situation, and answer any and all questions you may have. Utilizing their expertise can save you money and give you peace of mind. Not only that, but a CPA will also provide suggestions that will help you reduce your taxes for years to come.
Regardless of your financial status or current situation, you cannot put a price on the value a CPA provides. At Comprehensive Advisor, we make sure to coordinate your financial plan with your other financial professionals, and can also help you find a qualified CPA so you can have full confidence in your overall financial plan.
We’re Here To Help
Don’t let your stress levels increase as your time to file taxes decreases. Do yourself a favor and take these steps now to get ready for tax season so you are not scrambling at the last minute. If you have any questions about how to take control of your finances, email us at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com or call (760) 813-2125 today!
About Brett and John
Brett Gottlieb is the founder of Comprehensive Advisor and a financial advisor with nearly two decades of industry experience. He graduated from California State University-Chico with two bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Economics. Brett is Life Insurance licensed in several states.
John Mc Kean, financial advisor, joined Comprehensive Advisor in 2016. He has been in the financial services and retirement planning industry for over six years. John is Life Insurance licensed in California.
Brett and John previously worked as Registered Representatives with Securities America, one of the largest independent broker/dealers in the country, and currently offer advisory services through Legacy Road, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Both are passionate about educating clients on retirement planning. They take a common-sense approach to the planning process and work with clients to create a retirement road map to help ensure their assets are protected and they receive the income needed to enjoy their future. Based in Carlsbad, California, they work with clients throughout San Diego County. Learn more by connecting with Brett on LinkedIn or email them at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com.
This is not meant to be tax advice - please seek the help of a tax professional or CPA. If would like information on how to find the right CPA for you, contact us here: https://www.comprehensiveadvisor.com/contact
Advisory services offered through Legacy Road, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Brett Gottlieb, Investment Advisor Representative. California Insurance License #0C68886. John Mc Kean, Investment Advisor Representative. California Insurance License #0K37445. Comprehensive Advisor and Legacy Road, LLC are not affiliated.