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Take the Pulse of Your Tax Health

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Regular financial checkups give you an opportunity to identify where you can improve your overall tax situation. They also help identify areas of concern that may require more detailed attention. In a similar fashion, regularly reviewing your tax situation with a financial professional can identify opportunities to improve your tax picture and can often shed light on areas where you may be paying too much in taxes. Simple strategies that range from adjusting your withholding to timing the sales of securities can be employed to potentially reduce your tax bill.

Adjust Your Withholding

This is a simple and basic move. If you had too little tax withheld last year, you ended up paying the IRS what you owed when you filed your return and may incur a penalty. If you had too much tax withheld, you received a tax refund. You may regard a large tax refund as a plus -- but the reality is that a large tax refund is simply an interest-free loan of your money to the government. It may make more sense to have less tax withheld up front and receive more in your paycheck. That way, you can save or invest the money and potentially earn interest, dividends, or perhaps enjoy a capital gain on your investments.

Time the Sale of Securities

How long you own a profitable asset before you sell it can impact how much income tax you pay on your gain. Holding on to an appreciated asset for more than one year before you sell it results in long-term capital gain. The tax rate on long-term capital gains is 0%, 15%, or 20% depending on your taxable income and filing status. For example, if you are married and filing jointly in 2021, the long-term capital gains rate is 0% with income of up to $80,800, 15% with income between $80,801 and $501,600, and 20% with income over $501,600. In contrast, short-term capital gains are taxed at higher ordinary income tax rates.

If you have capital losses, look into selling investments in your taxable accounts to generate capital gains that can be offset by the losses. You could also potentially reduce taxes by investing in municipal bonds. Interest on municipal bonds is generally exempt from federal income taxes and might be exempt from state and local income taxes as well. Of course, credit ratings should be analyzed before purchase.

Add to Your Retirement Plan

You could potentially lower your income tax liability by increasing the amount you contribute to your tax-favored retirement plan (limits apply). If you're age 50 or older, and your plan permits, you may be able to add to your retirement account by making catch-up contributions in addition to your regular plan contributions.

Consider a Health Savings Account

A health savings account (HSA) can also be a good tax saving option. You can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored HSA or make deductible contributions to an HSA you open on your own provided you are covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan. You can invest in an HSA and have it grow in a tax-deferred manner similar to an individual retirement account. And HSA withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax free. You can also carry over a balance from year to year, allowing the account to grow.

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