by Chris Orestis
Retirement and the effects of aging come with a lot of changes, but at least one thing remains constant.
Every year, Uncle Sam wants to make sure you’re paying any taxes you might owe him, and that’s true whether you are retired or not. That said, though, there are tax rules that are specific to older Americans, so it’s important to be aware of the different ways you might be able to reduce your tax bill that weren’t available to you when you were younger.
Normally, April 15 is the deadline to file your tax returns. But this year, because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, the deadline has been extended to July 15. Remember also, if you currently receive Social Security and don’t file taxes anymore, you will receive a government stimulus check (or auto-deposit) of $1,200 automatically without filing any additional paperwork.
Meanwhile, that tax deadline extension means you’ve got extra time to explore some of those rules that seniors can take advantage of. A few to be mindful of include:
• You may qualify for a larger standard deduction. For many Americans, including many seniors, there’s no reason to itemize your deductions anymore because the standard deduction is so high – $12,200 for a single person and $24,400 for a married couple filing jointly. But you can get an even higher standard deduction if either you or your spouse is 65 or older, and a still higher deduction if either of you is blind. If you aren’t itemizing, then you want to make sure you’re getting the maximum standard deduction that you are allowed because that’s going to impact how much of your income is taxed.
• Yes, your Social Security benefit may be taxed. The rules for how much – if any – of your Social Security benefit is taxed can be tricky, so you want to be extra careful with that. According to the Social Security Administration, if you’re filing as an individual, and your Social Security benefit plus any other taxable income you have is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may be taxed up to 50% of your benefit. If your combined income is more than $34,000 then up to 85% of the benefit may be taxable. For married couples filing jointly, if the combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If your income is more than $44,000 then up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.
• You may be able to deduct long-term care insurance premiums. Owners of long-term care insurance policies can take tax deductions on premiums they pay for qualified plans – as well as other reimbursed medical expenses such as Medicare premiums – as long as the premiums are greater than 7.5% of adjusted gross income.
• Selling your life insurance policy has advantages. There can be significant tax benefits for people who sell their life insurance policy through what is called a “life settlement.” Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the proceeds from a life settlement are fully exempt from federal taxes if the policy owner is terminally or chronically ill. Those who are not terminally or chronically ill do pay capital-gain taxes on the proceeds from the sale, minus the amount in premiums the policyholder paid over the life of the policy.
• You may want to increase contributions to your retirement accounts. Of course, many seniors aren’t adding anything to their IRAs or 401(k)s. Instead, they are regularly withdrawing money to pay for monthly living expenses. But if you’re still working, you can increase your contributions, which can both reduce your tax bill now and give you an even larger nest egg when you do retire. The IRS limits how much you can contribute each year, but that limit increases once you turn 50.
The important thing to remember is that you may have options at tax time that you hadn’t thought about. Knowing the tax rules and how they apply to your personal situation, and seeking professional advice, can make a huge difference.
Chris Orestis, known as the “Retirement Genius,” is president of LifeCare Xchange and a nationally recognized healthcare expert and senior advocate.