Tax Tips for Americans in Their 50s

By Markets

Image source: Getty Images.

Continue Reading Below

In your 50s? Looking for ways to take some of the bite out of tax-time? You've come to the right place.Here are five ideas that could take some of the sting out of paying Uncle Sam in April.

Ramp up retirement

Retirement plans are one of the best ways to lower your taxable income and once you're in your 50s -- you get perks that other Americans don't.

In 2016, people under 50 years old can only contribute $18,000 of their pre-tax income to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, but people over 50 years old can contribute $24,000 thanks to a "catch-up" provision.

Similarly, you can contribute more pre-tax money to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA once you're in your 50s, too. In 2016, Americans over 50 years old can contribute $6,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, or $1,000 more than someone who is under 50 years old.

Continue Reading Below

If you contribute pre-tax money to a workplace retirement plan, like a 401(k), and you'rein the 25% tax bracket, contributing that extra $6,000 could save you an additional $1,500 at tax time. If you also qualify to contribute to a traditional IRA, then that additional $1,000 catch-up contribution could add another $250 to your wallet.

Here are some other things to remember about saving for retirement with these plans.

You can only contribute to these plans up to the amount of income you earn and pre-tax money contributed to tax-deferred plans, such as a traditional 401(k) plan, will be taxed at your future tax rate when the money is withdrawn. Therefore, if your tax bracket is lower in retirement, which it is for most retirees, then contributing pre-tax dollars today can lower your tax bill nowandprovide tax savings later.

It's also important to know that any after-tax money you contribute to a Roth IRA can grow tax free and be withdrawn tax free. However, Roth IRAs need to be established for five years before earnings can be withdrawn tax free and withdrawals of earnings prior to turning 59.5 years old can result in penalties.

Image source: via Flickr

Turn your home into a hostel

If you're in your 50s and your kids have left the nest, you might want to consider the tax advantages associated with building an in-law apartment, renting a room in your home, or finally setting up that office so you can work from home.

In many cases, the costs associated with building out your rental or home office can be tax deductible. You may also be able to depreciate some of the cost of your home based on the square footage of the apartment, room, or home office, and a prorated share of ongoing maintenance, upkeep, and mortgage interest may be deductible too. If you do decide to open up your home to guests, make sure to keep meticulous records.

It may also make sense to enlist the help of companies that match you up with short-term renters, such as Airbnb. Just don't forget to deduct their fees at tax time, too.

Enroll in an HSA

The next time your employer has their open enrollment period for benefits, make sure to investigate whether or not your health insurance plan is a high deductible plan that allows you to contribute to a health savings account.

If so, then you can make pre-tax contributions to an HSA that can be used to pay medical costs, such as dentist visits, co-pays, and laser surgery, tax-free. Americans over 55 years old can contribute $1,000 more to HSAs than their younger peers and that means folks over 55 years old can stash away $4,400 for an individual or $7,750 for family in 2017.

Another tax advantage associated with HSAs is that unused money that's put into them can grow tax-free over time, as long as money that's taken out of them is used for qualified medical expenses. Thus,HSAs can function as a tax-advantaged savings tool to pay healthcare costs in retirement.

If your plan doesn't qualify for an HSA, your employer may offer a flexible spending account, or FSA. If they do, make sure to take advantage of it. Money that's contributed to an FSA is tax-free if it's used for qualified medical expenses. However, unlike HSAs, money that's put into an FSA typically must be used in the year it's contributed.In 2017, $2,550 can be socked away in an FSA.

Image source: Getty Images.

Go back to school

If you or your spouse are considering a career change, now might be a great time to take some time off and go back to college.Thanks to an IRS deduction, the money you spend on tuition and enrollment fees this year could lower your tax bill.

Americans who have a modified adjusted gross income below $65,000 (if an individual) or $130,000 (if a joint filer) can get a $4,000 tax deduction and individuals or joint-filers with income between $65,000 and $80,000 or $130,001 and $160,000, respectively, can get a $2,000 deduction. If you earn more than that, then you won't qualify for a deduction.

Unfortunately, this higher education expense deduction ends in 2016, but if your classes start within three months of the end of the year, any money you spend on tuition and mandatory fees in 2016 will still qualify for the deduction. Items like books and room and board aren't deductible, however, so make sure you keep that in mind.

Plan your elective surgeries

If you're considering elective surgery, such as a joint replacement, consider whether or not there are any tax advantages associated with doing the procedure this year or waiting until next year.

The amount of money elective procedures cost varies greatly depending on your insurance coverage, however, most private insurance will make you pay deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance. Since surgeries like knee replacement can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the amount of money you pay out-of-pocket could be significant.

If so, know that taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct medical expenses that exceed 10% of their adjusted gross income. Therefore, if you have a lot of uncovered medical expenses this year, or think that your income might spike higher next year, it might make sense to pull forward your elective procedure so you can at least deduct some of those costs in 2016. Alternatively, if your income is going to drop next year (perhaps because you're going back to school), then it may be best to delay your procedure into 2017.


Tax moves like these won't guarantee you financial freedom, but they could pay off handsomely -- especially if they knock you down into a lower tax bracket.

The $15,834 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $15,834 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after.Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.