Thomas P. Ochsenschlager, Esq., CPA, vice president, taxation, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Washington, DC, www.aicpa.org. Ochsenschlager is a member of the Bottom Line/Wealth Panel of Experts.
If you filed your 2008 tax return by April 15, you might think that you won’t see your tax pro until next March or April. That may be true — but it also means that you could be missing valuable tax-saving advice. When to ask your accountant for an out-of-season meeting…
Change in family circumstances. If you’re getting married, you might ask for advice on setting up a prenuptial agreement, say, or on how marital assets should be titled. Holding an investment portfolio as “joint tenants with right of survivorship,” for example, will enable those assets to pass to the surviving co-owner without the time and expense of probate — but may lead to higher income tax after the death of the first spouse.
Divorcing also presents tax traps and opportunities. And, after the birth of a child, a tax pro can advise you on issues from estate planning to life insurance to setting up a college fund.
Change in domicile. Moving, say, from high-tax New York to low-tax Florida can be a huge tax saver. However, your move might turn into a nightmare if your old state insists that you still owe income tax to it even though you no longer live there. (Your heirs might be assessed for state estate tax, too.)
Your tax adviser can help you establish “domicile” in the low-tax state to avoid a possible challenge from your old state.
Loss of income. In the current economy, your 2009 income might lag behind what you made last year. Working with your tax pro, you can learn how to reduce your estimated tax payments or your paycheck withholding without the risk of an underpayment penalty.
For instance, the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allows some self-employed people to avoid a penalty for 2009 as long as their tax payments are at least 90% of their 2008 tax obligation.
Loss of a job. If you are among the swelling ranks of the unemployed, ask your tax professional about ways that you can continue your health insurance and how to document your job-hunting expenses, which might be tax deductible.
Job loss is forcing many people to tap their IRA or 401(k) accounts before age 59½. If this happens to you, your tax pro can suggest tactics to avoid paying a 10% penalty on early distributions. For example, you won’t owe this penalty if you use IRA money to pay college bills for yourself, your spouse, your child or your grandchild.
Major market moves. With stocks still way down from their peaks, taking losses now can save you taxes this year and/or in the future. Your tax adviser can suggest “loss harvesting” strategies and explain how to avoid making “wash sales,” which would cancel the tax benefit of selling.
At some point, stocks will go up again. Then your tax adviser can suggest tactics for taking capital gains and using appreciated assets for making tax-saving charitable contributions.
Year-end tax planning. November or December might roll around without providing you with any of the above reasons to see your tax adviser. Even so, it makes sense to sit down with your tax pro.
By year-end, you’ll have a good idea of your annual income and deductions. Any changes in tax law for 2009 will probably have been passed. This will enable your adviser to suggest specific tax-saving strategies.
Example: If your adviser determines that you will not be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) this year, he might suggest that you prepay (in 2009) state and local tax due in early 2010. This would accelerate deductions for these expenses to your 2009 tax return.
However, if you will owe the AMT in 2009, state and local taxes won’t be deductible for you. Then your accountant may recommend that you defer those payments until 2010, when those outlays may be tax deductible.
In 2008, the average state and local tax burden (total taxes on income, property, sales, gas, cigarettes, alcohol, etc.) was 11.8% in New Jersey — the highest-taxing state.
Here’s what residents of the lowest-taxing states paid…
Source: The Tax Foundation statistics