8 wise tax moves for ’08

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It may or may not be snowing, but political change is blowing. While Santa on his sleigh may rejoice with eight reindeer (nine if you count Rudolph), given more choice, we just pray for someone brainier. Happy holidays and lots of cheer, welcome to the end of the year. With hope that 2008 turns out to be great or at least as nice, here’s our list of advice, so get out your axes and let’s chop some taxes.

8 wise tax moves for ’08

  • Think capital gains in 2008
  • Remember to use your flexible spending accounts
  • Watch out for the bite of AMT
  • Hang in there until 2010
  • Maximize pension and IRA contributions
  • Get professional help
  • Make sure you have the right business entity
  • Consider filing your tax return electronically

1. Think capital gains in 2008. In 2008 through 2010, the long-term capital gains and qualified dividends tax goes to zero if your taxable income is in the 15 percent tax bracket. The 15 percent tax bracket is approximately $65,000 for a married couple filing jointly and half that for single taxpayers. If you’re planning on selling stock or property, this break is for you if you can get your income under these limits.

Remember the break applies to corporate dividends as well. While you may not have control over when Microsoft declares a dividend, if you have your own corporation, this tax break may help you and other shareholders. Through proper planning between now and 2010, you may be able to rid the corporation of excess earnings accumulations at little or no additional tax cost.

2. Remember to use your flexible spending accounts. You have to use your 2007 salary deferrals to prevent forfeiture. Last year the rules were changed so that you have until March 15 of the following year to spend your 2007 FSA money. While over-the-counter, or OTC, products are not deductible for tax purposes and your health insurance plan doesn’t reimburse these, many of these items can be paid or reimbursed from an FSA. Some OTC products make wonderful Valentine’s Day gifts. Now is also the time many employers allow you to set your 2008 salary deferrals. Make a budget and target the correct tax-free savings.

3. Watch out for the bite of AMT. Alternative minimum tax may be an issue for more taxpayers when completing their 2007 individual returns. In 2006, the AMT exemption amounts were $42,500 for single individuals and $62,550 for married couples filing jointly. For most taxpayers with around $100,000 in income, these exemptions meant they stayed out of AMT.

There is currently a bill in Congress to maintain the same exemption amounts for another year, and it is awaiting President Bush’s signature. Most average folks fall into the AMT inadvertently through too many tax and miscellaneous itemized deductions. The IRS has already warned Congress that further delay in making these changes could cause a disruption in 2008 tax filings as they reprogram computers. Either more people will pay AMT or delay tax filings.

4. Hang in there until 2010. While death and taxes are inevitable, in 2010 you still may cheat taxes. If you can hang on until 2010, the estate tax is repealed. This means that the value of your assets will escape taxation in 2010 if Congress doesn’t act before then. From now through the end of 2008, the first $2,000,000 in assets passes tax-free to your heirs.

In 2009, when our next president is sworn in, the exemption goes to $3,500,000. All of us tax pundits are assuming that something will be done, but we’ve been assuming that since this gradual estate tax repeal was introduced some six years ago. All this makes planning difficult, so if you’re dealing with numbers in this ball park, stick close to your attorney, your accountant and God.

5. Maximize pension and IRA contributions. The 2008 limits for 401(k) contributions remain unchanged at $15,500. Simple IRAs at work are also unchanged at $10,500. Even though they may or may not be tax deductible, IRAs or Roth IRAs are a great forced savings plan.

The 2007 contributions to IRAs remain at $4,000, and an additional $1,000 for those over 50 before the end of 2007. You have until April 15 to make your IRA contributions. If you file early, you can still claim the deductions and use any refund to fund the IRA. If you can’t make contributions to a deductible IRA or Roth IRA because of adjusted gross income, or AGI limitations, you may want to check out Bankrate’s article on non-deductible IRAs.

If you’re in business for yourself, there are some excellent pension plan opportunities available, but some of the best require that you establish the plan before year-end. The real estate market hasn’t been kind to investors, homeowners, Realtors or mortgage brokers.

6. Get professional help. If you’re in a difficult situation when it comes to your property or profession, it makes sense to consult a professional tax advisor. I’ve helped individuals this year change useless capital losses to useful losses, create an opportunity to get a refund of taxes paid in prior years, collect unemployment, avoid gains on foreclosure, maximize interest deductions and convert potential short-term gains into long-term gains. All this is possible with the proper tax planning and advice. You may have thrown bad money after good in the real estate market, but now is not the time to be a miser on advice.

7. Make sure you have the right business entity. If you’re running your business as a sole proprietor, you may want to consider incorporation. Not only do corporations give you shelter from some financial risks, they also give you flexibility for saving on taxes. But the time to set up the corporation is now, to have it in place at the beginning of the year. If you’re operating a business as an LLC or conventional corporation, in most cases you have until March 15 to convert it to an S corporation for tax purposes for 2008. Read about the advantages of an S corporation this Bankrate story ” Structure as an LLC or S corporation?” and in ” Rules of an S corporation.”

8. Consider filing your tax return electronically. Apart from reducing your carbon footprint, you can get your refund faster and be assured that you won’t get a notice that your return had a mathematical error. While the mailman can lose your refund check, direct deposit rarely goes awry.

You can also prefile and arrange to pay by the due date through automatic withdrawal or credit card. No more rushing to the post office at midnight on April 15 with insufficient postage. No more stapling the W-2 in the right place and wondering if the IRS will like it.

In most cases, one computer transmission of one file will take care of the IRS and your state tax obligations. Of the 139.3 million returns filed in 2007, 80 million, or about 57.4 percent, were filed electronically. More than 22.6 million returns have been e-filed by taxpayers doing their own returns, up from 20.3 million from the same period last year. Go to the IRS Web site for more information.