More Financial Planning Tips

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series of tips from financial professionals. This is not intended as financial advice, but rather subjects that you should explore further on your own. Check with your appropriate advisors to see if these ideas apply to your particular situation.

 Are there other major moves that you should consider? Your to-do list might be long, for much financial change may occur in 2013.

*Pay attention to asset location. Here are two big reasons why tax efficiency should be a priority as 2012 leads into 2013: Next year, dividend income is slated to be taxed as regular income. So tax on qualified stock dividends could nearly triple for the wealthiest Americans.

Capital gains taxes for high earners are scheduled to jump 33% in 2013. Long-term capital gains are now taxed at 15% for those in the highest four income brackets; that rate is supposed to rise to 20% next year.

*Can you contribute the maximum to your IRA on January 1? The rationale behind this is that the sooner you make your contribution, the more interest those assets will earn. If you haven’t made your 2012 IRA contribution, you still have until April 15, 2013 to do that.

In 2012 you can contribute up to $5,000 to a Roth or traditional IRA if you are age 49 or younger, and up to $6,000 if you are age 50 and older (though your MAGI may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA).

What are the income limits on tax deductions for traditional IRA contributions? If you participate in a workplace retirement plan, the 2012 MAGI phase-out ranges are $58,000-68,000 for singles and heads of households and $92,000-112,000 for couples.

*Should you go Roth before 2013 gets here?We all know federal taxes are poised to rise next year, but one little detail isn’t getting enough publicity: the planned 3.8% Medicare surtax scheduled to hit single/joint filers with AGIs over $200,000/$250,000 will not apply to qualified payouts from Roth accounts.

MAGI phase-out limits affect Roth IRA contributions. In 2012, phase-outs kick in at $173,000 for joint filers and $110,000 for single filers. Should your MAGI prevent you from contributing to a Roth IRA at all, you still have a chance to contribute to a traditional IRA in 2012 and then roll those assets over into a Roth.

Consult a tax or financial professional before you make any IRA moves to see how it may affect your overall financial picture. If you have a large traditional IRA, the projected tax resulting from the conversion may make you think twice.

*Payroll taxes are slated to increase 2% next year.The payroll tax cut of 2011-12 has slim chance of extending into 2013. The maximum payroll tax paid by high earners is slated to be $7049.40 next year, $2,425 above 2012 levels. That isn’t just because Social Security taxes for employees are returning to the 6.2% level; it also reflects a 3.3% increase in the upper salary limit subject to the tax to $113,700.

*Review your withholding status. Aside from the presumed end of the payroll tax holiday, there are other reasons you may want to adjust your withholding status…

  • You tend to pay a great deal of income tax each year.
  • You tend to get a big federal tax refund each year.
  • You recently married or divorced.
  • A family member recently passed away.
  • You have a new job at a much greater salary.
  • You started a business venture or became self-employed.

*If you are retired and older than 70½, remember your RMD. Retirees over age 70½ must take Required Minimum Distributions from traditional IRAs and Roth 401(k)s and all employer-sponsored retirement plans by December 31, 2013. The IRS penalty for failing to take an RMD equals 50% of the RMD amount.

If you have turned or will turn 70½ in 2012, you can postpone your first IRA RMD until April 1, 2013. The downside of that is that you will have to take two IRA RMDs next year, both taxable events – you will have to make your 2012 tax year withdrawal by April 1, 2013 and your 2013 tax year withdrawal by December 31, 2013.

Plan your RMDs wisely. If you do so, you may end up limiting or avoiding possible taxes on your Social Security income. Some Social Security recipients don’t know about the “provisional income” rule – if your modified AGI plus 50% of your Social Security benefits surpasses a certain level, then a portion of your Social Security benefits become taxable. For tax year 2012, Social Security benefits start to be taxed at provisional income levels of $32,000 for joint filers and $25,000 for single filers.

*Consider the tax impact of any 2012 transactions. Did you sell real property this year – or do you plan to before 2012 ends? Did you start a business? Are you thinking about exercising a stock option? Could any large commissions or bonuses come your way before January? Did you sell an investment held outside of a tax-deferred account? Any of this might significantly affect your 2012 taxes.

*Would it be worth making a 13th mortgage payment this year? If your house is underwater, there’s no sense in doing it – and you could also argue that the dollars might be better off invested or put in your emergency fund. Those factors aside, however, there may be some merit to making a January mortgage payment in December. If you have a fixed-rate loan, a lump sum payment can reduce the principal and the total interest paid on it by that much more.

*Are you marrying in 2013? If so, why not review the beneficiaries of your workplace retirement plan account, your IRA, and other assets? In light of your marriage, you may want to make changes to the relevant beneficiary forms. The same goes for your insurance coverage. If you will have a new last name in 2013, you will need a new Social Security card. Additionally, you and your spouse no doubt have individually particular retirement saving and investment strategies. Will they need to be revised or adjusted with marriage?

*Are you coming home from active duty? If so, go ahead and check the status of your credit, and the state of any tax and legal proceedings that might have been preempted by your orders. Make sure your employee health insurance is still there, and revoke any power of attorney you may have granted to another person.

Talk with a qualified financial or tax professional today. Vow to focus on being healthy and wealthy in the New Year.

(Some assumptions made are based on the proposed 2013 budget and tax provisions which have yet to be approved by Congress and are subject to change.)

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