6 Strategies to Protect Income From Taxes

Income is taxed at federal, state, and local levels, and earned income is subject to additional levies for Social Security and Medicare. While avoiding taxes entirely is challenging, several strategies can help mitigate their impact. Here are some approaches to consider:

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Contributing to qualified retirement and employee benefit accounts with pretax dollars can exempt some income from taxation and defer taxes on other earnings.
  • Long-term capital gains are taxed at lower rates.
  • Capital loss deductions can further reduce your tax burden.
  • Interest income from municipal bonds is generally not subject to federal tax.

1. Invest in Municipal Bonds

Governments fund their obligations, such as maintaining infrastructure and public services, by selling municipal bonds, or “munis.” The key advantage of holding municipal bonds until maturity is that the interest earned is generally exempt from federal, and possibly state and local, taxes if you reside where the bond was issued. This tax-free interest makes munis appealing to many investors.

However, not all municipal bonds are tax-exempt. If purchased at a significant discount, a “de minimis” tax may apply, and the interest and gains from this discount are taxed as regular income. Despite typically offering lower interest rates, municipal bonds have a lower historical default rate compared to corporate bonds, making them a safer investment option.

2. Aim for Long-Term Capital Gains

Investing in stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and real estate can be a significant tool for wealth growth, partly due to favorable tax treatment on long-term capital gains. Assets held for more than a year are taxed at preferential rates of 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your income level. In contrast, short-term gains are taxed at regular income tax rates.

For 2024, the zero rate bracket for long-term capital gains applies to taxable income up to $94,050 for married couples filing jointly and $47,025 for single individuals. Utilizing strategies like tax-loss harvesting can offset capital gains taxes by allowing deductions for losses, with excess losses over $3,000 carried forward to future tax years.

3. Start a Business

Running a side business can offer numerous tax advantages alongside additional income. Many business-related expenses, including health insurance premiums for self-employed individuals, can be deducted from income. Home office deductions, when properly claimed, can reduce taxable income by deducting a portion of utilities and Internet expenses.

To claim these deductions, the IRS requires proof of a profit motive, typically demonstrated by showing a profit in three out of five years. Additionally, the SECURE Act of 2019 offers tax incentives to employers who join multiple-employer plans and provide retirement options for their employees.

4. Maximize Retirement Accounts and Employee Benefits

Contributions to retirement accounts like 401(k) or 403(b) plans can significantly reduce taxable income. In 2023, contributions up to $22,500 (rising to $23,000 in 2024) are allowed, with an additional $7,500 catch-up contribution for those aged 50 or older. This means an employee earning $100,000 who contributes the maximum amount can reduce their taxable income substantially.

For those without employer-sponsored retirement plans, contributing up to $7,000 ($8,000 for those 50 and older) to a traditional IRA in 2024 can offer tax benefits. The IRS provides specific guidelines on how much of these contributions can be deducted based on adjusted gross income and participation in other retirement plans.

How Can I Reduce My Taxable Income?

Experts recommend several strategies to reduce your taxable income. These include contributing to employee benefit plans like a 401(k), health savings accounts (HSA), flexible spending accounts (FSA), and traditional individual retirement accounts (IRA).

How Much Should I Contribute to My 401(k) to Reduce My Taxes?

401(k) accounts allow pre-tax contributions, meaning the money you contribute is not taxed at the time of contribution. This lowers your taxable income, resulting in a smaller tax bill. The more you contribute to your 401(k), the more you reduce your taxable income and tax liability.

What Deductions Does the IRS Allow for the Self-Employed?

The IRS permits self-employed individuals to deduct several expenses. These include costs associated with home offices, vehicles, cell phones, contributions to self-employed retirement plans, and self-employed health insurance premiums.

The Bottom Line

While it is crucial to pay the taxes legally required, there is no need to pay more than necessary. Spending some time researching on the IRS website (IRS.gov) and reputable financial information sites can potentially save you significant amounts in taxes.

Consulting with a tax professional is also advisable before claiming deductions on your tax return. This ensures you meet all qualifying rules and can confidently enjoy the savings from your diligent tax planning.