Tax season has just started, but you can still find opportunities to cut your 2019 taxes if you know where to look.
The IRS started accepting tax returns on Jan.27, kicking off the long march to April 15 — the deadline for taxpayers to pay last year’s liabilities.
Even if you’re able to get six more months to file your tax return, you’re required to pay taxes owed by April 15.
The next few weeks will be crucial for filers who want to reduce what they owe.
“When the year ends, you’re usually done,” said Andrea Coombes, a tax specialist at NerdWallet, a personal finance site.
“But there is still time to reduce your tax bill for last year and very few ways to do it,” she said.
Here are a few opportunities to save on your 2019 tax return.
Save more for retirement
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Savers get a win-win when they contribute to an individual retirement account or a health savings account — a tax-advantaged account that works alongside a high-deductible health plan.
That’s because the money you put away in an IRA or HSA is tax-deductible, and you don’t have to itemize on your taxes to get this break.
For 2019, you can stash up to $3,500 in your HSA if you have single coverage or $7,000 if you have a family plan. Throw in an extra $1,000 if you’re 55 and up.
Further, you can contribute up to $6,000 to your traditional IRA for 2019, plus $1,000 if you’re 50 and over.
Contributions to both accounts are tax-deductible on your 2019 return if you put the money away by April 15.
Review your receipt stash
Now that the standard deduction is so high — $12,200 for single households and $24,400 for married-filing-jointly in 2019 — it’s harder for taxpayers to itemize deductions on their return.
While this puts tax breaks for state and local taxes and charitable contributions out of reach for many, there are still “above the line” deductions that are in play.
That means you don’t have to itemize to take the following write-offs:
Student loan interest deduction: You can deduct up to $2,500 or the amount of interest you paid during the year, whichever is the lesser. By now, your lender should have sent you those details on Form 1098-E.
Child and dependent care credit: If you’re paying for daycare or after-school care for a child under age 13, you may be able to collect a credit of up to $1,050 for one kid or $2,100 for two or more kids.
“Keep records of those childcare costs,” said Andy Phillips, director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. “You may qualify for a credit to offset some of the cost of childcare.”
Be aware that you need to pay your care provider on the books. You’ll need his or her tax ID or Social Security number in order to claim this tax break.
Self-employed tax breaks: If you’re running your own business, remember that you can claim deductions for the money you save in your retirement plan, as well as the health insurance premiums you pay.
Get this tax savings grab bag
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Toward the end of 2019, Congress dusted off a package of expired tax breaks, bringing them back into play.
Be on the lookout for the following:
Tuition and fees deduction: If your child is in college, you may deduct $4,000 a year in higher-education tuition costs and other expenses. You don’t have to itemize to take this.
Mortgage insurance: Homeowners who put down less than 20% of the sales price have to buy private mortgage insurance. If you itemize on your tax return, you can deduct the premiums you paid during the year.
Debt forgiveness: If your lender canceled or forgave the mortgage on your principal residence — perhaps because you had a foreclosure or a “short sale” of your home — you may exclude up to $2 million (for married filers) of that discharged debt from your gross income.
Medical expenses: Itemizers with hefty medical costs — that is, to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your 2019 adjusted gross income — can take this write-off. If you used an HSA to pay these expenses, you may not deduct those costs.
“The copays you paid can add up, and so can prescriptions, as long as they aren’t reimbursed,” said Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and TurboTax tax expert.