5 more smart ideas to get the most on your tax return

By Richard Wagner

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 8:00 a.m. MST

When it comes to taxes, gains do not necessarily equate to more income tax. Even with the new 2013 higher tax rates on capital gains for those with income in higher brackets, there are many strategies that can reduce or eliminate altogether the tax on capital gains. For example, when the market declined in 2007 and 2008 we helped clients recognize the tax losses, and now the investments have appreciated, but are in tax efficient funds so those gains have not been taxed.

One of our clients recognized more than $500,000 in losses on the client's tax return, but has actually gained hundreds of thousands of dollars that have not been taxed.

Tax idea 9 — donate gains or step up basis

Proper tax planning and investing may generate large untaxed capital gains. How do you reduce that tax hit? Rather than donating cash to your favorite charity, donate the property that has large capital gains instead, and you may be able to avoid tax on the entire gain, permanently.

Furthermore, if you want to give money to a child or grandchild, why not transfer these highly appreciated shares to your child instead, and let the child sell the shares. In many cases, the child may pay little or no taxes on capital gains, but still receive the same economic benefit.

Consider taking advantage of the step up in basis at death by deferring these gains throughout life and then after you pass away, if properly structured, your heirs can sell the assets the next day and pay no tax!

On a side note, beware of annuities that may convert capital gains into ordinary income, thereby removing the opportunity to use these capital gains strategies. Furthermore, non-annuitized withdrawals require all gains to be distributed and taxed as ordinary income, before you get any of your original purchase amounts back. There are some instances where an annuity might make sense, just make sure you understand the tax impacts before you invest.

Tax idea 10 — tax managed investments

Be smart about your investments, pick funds that are tax managed or attempt to match gains with losses or have very low turnover so that you're not constantly generating gains that you have to pay tax on. Taxes have a tremendous negative impact on your overall return.

When you compare investments, make sure you include the tax effect of gains on dividends, interest and capital gains from schedule B and D of your return. Focus on the after tax return, because it matters more what you keep than what you earn.

People complain about the market, but over the last decade our clients have almost doubled their money in a boring, well-diversified, inexpensive portfolio with little turnover, and without ever leaving the market.

Don’t worry about the market, you cannot control the market, but you can control taxes and fees paid, so focus on the things you can control and forget about the things you can’t.

Caveat — As you are improving your situation, don’t forget about Congress’ sneaky trick — the alternative minimum tax. When you see a nice “tax reduction” gift from Congress, if it is not married to a similar change in the alternative minimum tax, the new deduction may be worthless.

As you look at different scenarios, make sure you take the AMT into consideration, otherwise all your planning may be for naught. Make sure that you run your tax computation for both regular and alternative minimum tax to give greater assurance that your planning efforts will pay off.

Do not rely on any information stated or calculations made herein as tax or legal advice. Consult your independent tax adviser or attorney for tax or legal advice on which you rely.

Rich Wagner, CPA, MAcc, is a tax reduction and investment expert. If you’d like more ideas on protecting, saving and growing your money, call him at 801-657-4459 or email at richw@vwapro.com