There's still time to save on this year's tax bill

Andrew Leckey

December 04, 1992|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

Times are changing, making year-end tax planning important. There's time to make adjustments to save money on your 1992 tax bill.

For many Americans, it still makes sense to defer as much income as possible until next year and take as many deductions as possible this year.

However, higher-income taxpayers, whose tax rates will likely increase next year under President Clinton, may wish to accelerate as much income as possible into this year and delay deductions until 1993.

Tax consultants are speculating about the "ifs" of future tax policies.

"Even if Bill Clinton said tomorrow exactly what tax changes he wished, it would still have a long way to go through Congress, and might not come out in the same form," said Robert Greisman, tax partner with Grant Thornton. "Clinton has, however, gone on record as saying he wants to raise the top tax rate on individuals with incomes over $150,000 and couples over $200,000 from the present 31 percent to 36 percent."

That could, due to budgetary pressures, be extended to Americans making less than those amounts, he said.

Tightening the alternative minimum tax by boosting it from the present 24 percent to 27 percent has also been discussed.

"Clinton's talking about changing the home mortgage interest deduction for mortgages greater than $250,000," said Thomas Kuchta, managing partner with Price Waterhouse. "Meanwhile, for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of more than $1 million, a surtax of 10 percent of the amount over $1 million has been promised."

Budgetary woes may postpone promised middle-class tax cuts.

There's talk of changing the $10,000 annual gift tax exclusion, in which you currently can make gifts of $10,000 each to as many people as you want," said Steve Weinstein, tax partner with Arthur Andersen. "There's one suggestion it be limited to no more than three gifts of $10,000 and then only to family members."

Which means this year may be the one to make such gifts.

The possibility of higher transfer tax rates at death, reducing the current $600,000 of tax-free amounts that can go to people other than your spouse to as low as $200,000, is another concern, Weinstein said.

Don't dive into the future until you've taken care of 1992. Figure your 1992 and 1993 taxable income and adjusted gross income. Get a "snapshot" of your 1992 tax situation by doing this projection of salary and withholding for the year. Refer to last year's tax return.

Investors who accumulated capital gains this year can avoid taxes on profits by offsetting gains with similar amounts of capital losses. If losses exceed gains by more than $3,000, the excess can be carried over for deduction in future years.

Make sure tax withheld from your paycheck, or estimated taxes paid, will be sufficient to cover nearly all your 1992 tax bill.

vTC If it isn't, increase withholding to make up the difference and avoid penalties. To accelerate deductions, pay your January 1993 mortgage payment before the end of this year. You could also prepay state and local estimated taxes before year-end to claim them this year.

Many higher-income taxpayers may be better off waiting until after the first of the year to make charitable gifts because deductions may be worth more to them then.

Before investing in a mutual fund before year-end, find out if it will make any year-end distributions of capital gains and other income.

If the payout would create a significant tax bill, wait until after the record date.

Be careful. "Because so many people make math errors, we recommend they do tax computations with calculators," said Michael McGrail, a regional IRS executive.

Among changes for the 1992 tax year are tax tables that now cover incomes up to $100,000, not just $50,000. Standard deduction has been increased to $3,600 for a single person; $3,000 for married person filing singly; $6,000 for married couple filing jointly; and $5,250 for head of household. This determines whether to itemize.

The personal exemption is increased to $2,300 for 1992. The earned income salary level is up to $22,370 and maximum earned income credit $2,211.

If claiming a residence interest deduction involving a seller-financed mortgage, the buyer must now include the seller's name, address and tax identification number on Schedule A and the seller must include the same information for the buyer on Schedule B.

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