9 Ways to Cut Your Tax Bill



“The best way to teach your kids about taxes is by eating 30% of their ice cream.”

-Actor/comedian Bill Murray


cut taxesI read this quote recently, and it made me chuckle.  While comical, it’s really a perfect comparison, especially if you enjoy your hard-earned money like I enjoy Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.  So many friends have asked me how they can save money on their tax returns.  


I would assume that this topic would only come up in April when taxes are due, but clearly people ponder over minimizing their tax burden throughout the year.


Adjust Your Withholdings

The first step that I tell people is to pull out their older tax returns, most importantly last year’s.  


Check to see if you received a tax refund or owed money the previous year.  If you owed money last year, you should adjust your withholdings and monitor your income this year, as you do not want to potentially owe an underpayment penalty.  You never want to owe the IRS more money.


Tax Bracket and Long-Term Capital Gains Tax Rate

Warren Buffett famously claims that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.  He shared that his adjusted gross income in 2015 was $11,563,931.  That year, he paid a federal income tax of $1,845,557.  This means that he paid an effective tax rate of 16%.


I don’t know about you, but I definitely paid a higher tax rate than that last year.  So, how did he do it?


Based on the table below, you can see that both dividends and long-term capital gains are taxed at a rates of 0%, 15%, and 20%.  This incentivizes earned income from investments versus a salary.  


That is why Warren Buffett pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.  


Marginal Tax Rate (Tax Bracket) Long-Term Capital Gains Tax Rate
10% 0%
15% 0%
25% 15%
28% 15%
33% 15%
35% 15%
39.6% 20%

Source: IRS


Tax Shelters: Contribute to Roth Accounts

What are tax shelters?  They are retirement accounts, like traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans, which allow you to defer paying your taxes today so that your investments can grow tax-free.  Legal tax shelters are always the way to go.


Another way to lower your tax burden in the future is contribute to your Roth IRA and Roth 401(k).  While you pay taxes up front, when you withdraw these investments in the future, you won’t have to worry about their tax implications. 


However, if you take out a 401(k) loan, make sure that you pay it off before you leave the job.  If you fail to do so, that loan amount will be considered a distribution and will be taxed.


Property Tax and Mortgage Interest

Too many taxpayers leave money on the table because they don’t have organized records or they don’t take the time to itemize their deductions.  If you own a home, take note of the property tax and mortgage interest payments over the year.  This will help you take advantage of the itemized tax deduction in your tax return.


Sell Your Home

This is somewhat unconventional, but if you have lived in your home for at least 2 years, you can deduct up to $250,000 (single filer) or $500,000 (married filer) on your primary residence if you sell.  If your house is inching towards these appreciation figures, you may use this as a great excuse to move without incurring additional taxes in the future.



Donating to charity can allow you to reduce your tax burden.  This includes monetary donations along with items, such as clothing, furniture, etc.  If you think you’re close to a lower tax bracket, it may be wise to declutter your house and donate some items.


If you plan to give a monetary gift to charity, consider giving an appreciated stock or passive index fund shares that you have owned for one year or longer.  This would be more lucrative than simply donating cash.  In this scenario, your charitable contribution deduction would be the fair market value of the stock on the date of the gift and not what you paid for it.  


However, this does not work in reverse.  So, don’t donate stocks or index funds that have lost money. You would be much better off selling the stock and claiming the loss on your taxes than donating these stocks to charity.


Student Loan Interest

You also have the ability to deduct student loan interest to lower your tax burden.  This is not bound by the itemized deduction.


Contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

These are established with pre-tax money, which you then use to pay qualifying medical expenses.  Contribution limits for Health FSAs are $2,600 for 2017.  For HSAs, 2017 contribution limits are $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families.  More importantly, HSAs can be rolled over the following year without any penalties.  Those 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000.


Have More Kiddos

Of course, I would never suggest making life-altering decisions solely to lower taxes.  However, if you are planning to have children, you are eligible to receive an exemption for each one of your dependents.  In 2017, this tax deduction is worth $4,050.


On top of that, if you have up to $3,000 worth of expenses for one child, or $6,000 for two or more, while you work or seek work, you can claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit.


So readers, did I miss any obvious ways to cut your tax bill?  Do you have a tax analogy as great as Bill Murray’s?  Share your thoughts below.

Mustard Seed Money

Welcome to the website. A mustard seed is a very small seed but astonishingly grows very large over time. My hope is that through your financial journey that your small investment in time, money and faith will grow beyond anything that you could ever imagine.


    • Thanks for stopping by Ms. FAF!!! Kiddos can definitely be expensive to raise. I definitely appreciate the government providing an incentive to defray some of the costs of children 🙂

  1. My philosophy has always been, “it’s not how much you earn. It’s how much you get to keep after taxes and deductions.”

    Every year, one of my financial goals is to keep more of my hard earned money. I will try to maximize the tax credit that I get and minimize my tax deductions. It takes a bit of time to organize my paper work, but I will get paid at the end.
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com recently posted…Living With AutismMy Profile

  2. Bill Murray is one of my favorite actors and that’s a great quote that I havent heard before. I like the HSA suggestion. You could contribute to one even if you already have health insurance. Are there any ways to move the money out of an HSA before retirement without fees if you had to?
    Jeff @ Maximum Cents recently posted…How Long Should You Keep Your Car?My Profile

  3. The one thing I’d add is pay attention to timing. If you have a year where your in a higher bracket pull forward next year’s property tax or delay a stock sale a few weeks. Vice versa can also be of benefit.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Luck And PreparednessMy Profile

  4. Tax shelters are great because they are a double whammy; you’re forcing yourself to save for your future and getting a tax break (if you use tax-deferred accounts) to not pay taxes up front. Also, it’s good to put high dividend paying securities their too to take full advantage of this rule 🙂
    SMM recently posted…Best 401k CalculatorMy Profile

    • Thanks Cory!!! I totally agree that donating is a huge win/win. Getting rid of stuff that you don’t use is a great way to clean up the house and provide valuable things to others.

  5. I’d point out that a lot of these phase out at higher incomes…Roth IRA contributions, student loan interest, and even the child tax credit. Sheltering your money in 401(K)s and HSAs don’t, however.

    One of the best things I’ve seen is that if you are planning to go back to school and you live in a state with a 529 deduction, open a 529 for yourself and stream your qualified expenses that you’re cash flowing through the 529.
    Emily Jividen recently posted…Your Fall Holiday Money Plan: Prepare Now or Pay LaterMy Profile

    • Great points Emily!!! The 529 plan is definitely something I wish I did when I went back and got my MBA. It definitely would have saved me a couple of dollars along the way.

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