'Tis the season -- for last moves to reduce your income tax bill

December 08, 1991|By Vicki Vaughan | Vicki Vaughan,Orlando Sentinel

Now that Turkey Day is history and you're gearing up for the year-end holidays, that fateful date -- April 15 -- is probably far from your mind.

But if you put off tax planning into the new year, you'll lose the chance to take advantage of some money-saving strategies, experts say. Some basic planning now can help even those making modest wages.

The best and most time-honored strategy is to defer income into the next year. Many people who work for someone else can't do that. But if you have fringe income -- you earn money as a free-lance musician in your spare time, for example -- you could ask to be paid after Jan. 1.

If you're in business for yourself, "you could stop riding herd on accounts payable," said Frank Dasse, executive vice president of Nelson Investment Planning Services in Maitland, Fla. "You could just back off and wait until 1992 to start trying to collect" what is owed to you.

If you work for someone else and expect a year-end bonus, you could ask to receive it after Jan. 1.

Another suggestion: Clean out your closets and your garage. Give what you don't want or need to charity and deduct on your 1991 tax bill the fair market value of what you've given away. Such a popular year-end strategy takes a different twist if you like credit cards. You can charge a charitable contribution now and take the deduction for 1991 but pay it off in 1992.

Another suggestion is to look into starting an individual retirement account, said Mike Iglesias, president of Professional Tax Consultants in Orlando, Fla. One nice aspect of having an IRA is that you can contribute to it through April 14 and still take the deduction on your 1991 taxes, Mr. Iglesias said.

But look at the rules closely. IRAs, though attractive for some, aren't the middle-class tax shelter they were before legislative changes that took effect in 1986. Be aware that whether you'll be able to deduct the full amount of an IRA contribution depends on your taxable income, said Vincent Conte, president of Financial Advisory Service in Orlando.

The rules: If you're single and your annual taxable income is $25,000 or less, you can deduct as much as $2,000 put into an IRA, even if you already contribute to a retirement plan.

Mr. Dasse points out, however, that for every $100 you earn that is more than $25,000, you lose $20 in deductibility. If you make more than $35,000, you can still save the money, but you can't deduct any of your IRA contribution. For a married couple filing jointly, if their taxable annual income is $40,000 or less, each spouse can deduct $2,000 in IRA contributions. When income exceeds $40,000, the deduction is phased out, disappearing entirely for couples whose total annual income is more than $50,000.

Also, if you and your spouse are active participants in another retirement plan, you could lose part of your deductibility.

Other hints for tax savings:

* If you need any kind of equipment for your business, load up now. You can take a deduction for purchases before year's end of office equipment costing as much as $10,000, Mr. Iglesias said, as long as you put what you buy into service before Dec. 31.

But if you claim a loss in your business, your outlay for new equipment cannot be included as a direct expense in calculating your loss. If you take a loss, you must depreciate the new items.

* If you have a mortgage payment due the first week of 1992, make that January payment in late December. Depending on when you made the first payment of 1991, you could be deducting for 13 mortgage payments for the year, thus saving you a little on your 1991 taxes.

* Another, more esoteric strategy is to get a tax credit for investing in limited partnerships involved in the restoration of a historic property. The tax law permits you a credit for a portion of your investment that was used to restore the building.

If you invest in such a partnership before Dec. 31, "you can get a tax credit in that year," said Mr. Dasse, who is an adjunct professor at Rollins College's Crummer School of Business in Winter Park, Fla.

Mr. Dasse advised doing plenty of homework before putting your money in limited partnerships that allow investors to help people take advantage of the restoration tax credit.

"Make sure the deal makes sense economically," Mr. Dasse said. The rehab of just any old structure -- say, an office building in an area where there already is plenty of office space -- wouldn't be a good idea. You might earn the tax credit, but it would do you little good if you wound up losing your principal.

Mr. Conte suggested resolving to make tax planning a goal throughout 1992. "Tax planning isn't like hunting or fishing -- there's no season to it," he said. "Make tax planning a year-round activity."

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