Year-End Retirement Savings Actions

The end of the year is approaching, but it may not be too late to make some retirement account decisions that can help you reduce your 2016 tax burden. In fact, for IRA accounts you have until your tax filing deadline (usually April 15 of the following year) to make a contribution that will count towards tax year 2016. With that in mind, here are a few last-minute moves you can make that will qualify you for retirement savings tax perks.

Max out 401(k) contributions. 401(k) contributions are typically due by the end of the calendar year. You can claim a tax deduction on up to $18,000 that you save in a 401(k) account in 2016. A worker in the 25 percent tax bracket who fully funds his 401(k) could reduce his 2016 tax bill by $4,500. Income tax won't be due on this money until it is withdrawn from the account. At the least, make sure you are maximizing the employer’s matching contribution to your 401(k); that means making sure to contribute whatever threshold amount is required to at least get the total employer contribution that's available.

Remember catch-up contributions. People age 50 and older can make 401(k) catch-up contributions worth an additional $6,000, which means older workers can defer paying income tax on up to $24,000 they save for retirement (if the same worker above was over 50, he would realize a tax reduction of $6,000 in the 25 percent bracket by maxing out contributions).

Bottom line for 401(k)s - check your current contribution levels so far for the year, and if you are able to, top it off.

Set up a Small Business Retirement Plan. If you are self-employed or run a small business, opening your own retirement plan – such as a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, solo 401(k) or your own Defined Benefit pension plan – is a great way to shelter income. For example, if you were to open a SEP IRA, you are allowed to contribute 25% of your earnings, up to $53,000 in 2016, to the plan.

The type of plan that suits your business depends on a variety of factors, and you may want to consult with a financial advisor to help you make the best decision to fit your situation. Also, while you may be able to make contributions up to your tax filing deadline next April, keep in mind that some plans, like the solo 401(k), must be established before the year-end for those contributions to count for tax savings in 2016.

Qualify for the saver's credit. If your adjusted gross income is less than $30,750 as an individual or $61,500 as a couple in 2016 and you save in a 401(k) by the end of the calendar year or in an IRA by your tax filing deadline, you might be eligible to claim the saver's credit on your 2016 tax return. The tax credit is worth between 10 and 50 percent of the amount you save in a retirement account up to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples. A tax credit is very valuable because it reduces your taxes dollar for dollar. However, the credit cannot be claimed by those under age 18, full-time students or people claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return.

Donate your RMD to charity. IRA owners who are age 70 1/2 or older and transfer up to $100,000 per year directly to a qualifying charity can avoid paying income tax on the transaction. This IRA charitable contribution can also be used to satisfy your minimum distribution requirement (required minimum distributions were covered in this previous post).

Extra time for IRA contributions. While 401(k) contributions typically need to be made by the end of the calendar year, as mentioned in the beginning you have until your tax filing deadline in April to make IRA contributions that will qualify you for a tax deduction on your 2016 tax return.