The 7 Life-Changing Events Where Tax Planning Pays Off

Few people enjoy tax planning. But everyone goes through major life changes, and many of them have substantial tax consequences. Knowing about them and planning your taxes around them can help you avoid unpleasant surprises and sometimes can produce huge savings on your tax bill. Here are seven key situations where it pays to do some basic tax planning.

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1. Getting ready to go to college

The tax laws include a number of tax breaks for education. For instance, using 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts can give you tax-free growth in your investments when you use the money for qualified educational expenses. Moreover, educational tax credits apply to students of all ages, with undergraduates getting a particularly valuable credit that can put money back in your pocket even if you wouldn't ordinarily owe any tax. By knowing income limitations and other restrictions on these provisions, you can plan accordingly to take full advantage.

2. Getting your first job

Starting work involves many tax-related issues. Right away, filing Form W-4 to set up tax withholding makes a big difference in whether you get a refund or owe tax at the end of the year. Also, setting up things like a 401(k) automatic contribution as well as a flexible spending account can reduce your taxable income and let you use pre-tax money to fund your retirement, healthcare, and dependent care needs. Planning well for those breaks can boost your take-home pay.

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3. Getting married

Couples often find that their tax situation changes dramatically when they tie the knot. Some receive a marriage bonus, while others have to pay the marriage penalty that can come with compressed income brackets. Moreover, specialized laws in some states can have impacts not just on taxes but also on ownership of property. If you know about these things before you get married, there are actions you can take to time their impact while also taking full advantage of the provisions that produce tax savings for you in your particular situation.

4. Buying a home

Purchasing a home gives you a large number of housing-related tax breaks, ranging from deductions on mortgage interest, property taxes, and other items to exclusions of capital gains tax on any increase in your home's value when you sell it. Structuring a mortgage loan to take advantage of these provisions is crucial, and there are mistakes you can make that will leave money on the table for the IRS to take. With smart planning, though, you can set up a real estate deal that will maximizing any tax savings you can achieve.

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5. Having children

Having children opens up a whole new realm of favorable tax provisions. Dependent exemptions, the child credit, credits for child care expenses, and larger eligible amounts for key provisions like the earned income tax credit are just a few of the ways that tax laws favor families with children. Given how expensive it is to raise a child, you can't afford to miss out on any help the IRS will give you.

6. Getting divorced

Just like getting married, getting a divorce results in a change in filing status for your tax return. Yet that's just the tip of the iceberg, because how you structure key elements like alimony and child support can affect the taxes of both ex-spouses going forward. To make sure that your tax bill doesn't introduce any new tension in the post-divorce relationship, plan for the future during the divorce process, and realize how integral it can be to your finances going forward.

7. Retiring

When you retire, you have to change gears and start using your other income sources, including Social Security and your personal savings. Both have tax implications, with some Social Security benefits being taxable if your income is high enough, and retirement account withdrawals can be even more taxing. On the other hand, senior tax breaks are available that can cut your bill, so getting the full scoop is more important than ever.

Going through these major events is part of life. By being aware of the tax ramifications of these things before they happen, you'll be better prepared to save on taxes where you can while paying as little extra in tax as you can get away with throughout your lifetime.

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