ARM Mid-Year Tax Planning Series (4 of 4): Don’t Pass up Tax-free Income

Take Advantage of Retirement Plan Options. The earnings on most retirement accounts are tax-deferred. (With Roth IRAs, they’re normally tax-free.) Thus, the sooner you fund such an account, the quicker the tax advantage begins. If you can come up with the cash now, there’s no need to wait until year-end or the April 15 tax filing deadline to make your 2016 contributions. However, if your employer offers a 401(k) or SIMPLE-IRA plan at work, you’ll probably want to contribute enough to that plan to receive a full employer match before making an IRA contribution.

Invest in Tax-free Securities. The most obvious source of tax-free income is tax-exempt securities, either owned outright or through a mutual fund. Whether these provide a better return than the after-tax return on taxable investments depends on your tax bracket and the market interest rates for tax-exempt investments. These factors change frequently, so it’s a good idea to periodically compare taxable and tax-exempt investments. In some cases, it may be as simple as transferring assets from a taxable to a tax-exempt fund. ARM recommends discussing your investment options with your financial advisor.

Make Charitable Donations from IRAs. If you’ve reached age 70½, you can arrange to have up to $100,000 of otherwise taxable IRA money paid directly to specified tax-exempt charities. These so-called Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) are federal-income-tax-free to you, but you don’t get to claim any itemized deductions on your Form 1040. However, the tax-free treatment equates to a 100% writeoff, and you don’t have to itemize your deductions to get it. Furthermore, you can count the distribution as part of your required minimum distribution that you’d otherwise be forced to receive and pay taxes on this year. Be careful though—to qualify for this special tax break, the funds must go directly between your IRA and the charity.