You could be paying less in taxes with these 7 strategies

They say it because it’s true: The only certain things in life are death and taxes.

While we’re still working on the whole immortality thing, we have found some ways to reduce that pesky bill from Uncle Sam each April.

31 PHOTOS
31 tax credits and deductions that could save you thousands
See Gallery
31 tax credits and deductions that could save you thousands

CHARITABLE DEDUCTIONS

That higher standard deduction makes it difficult to put together enough charitable deductions to make it worth itemizing. But if you do make large contributions, the threshold for deductions has jumped from 50 percent of adjusted gross income to 60 percent. While it's too late to make charitable donations for 2018, Kibler suggests tracking down receipts for donations made throughout the year, especially of cash or goods. Giving to eligible nonprofits, religious organizations, and government organizations (such as a school or public library) are deductible. "If you dropped off a bag of clothing at a local charity or gave them $5 at the cash register of your grocery store, make sure to track these contributions so you get the highest tax benefit possible," Kibler says.

STANDARD DEDUCTION

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 almost doubled the standard deduction in 2018, pushing it from $9,350 for those filing as head of household to $18,000. But it also eliminated a bunch of helpful credits and deductions, including the personal exemption, which was $4,050 in 2017.

AMERICAN OPPORTUNITY TAX CREDIT

While tuition and fees deductions have dried up, the American Opportunity Tax Credit remains an option for eligible students — not grad students or long-term undergrads; it's available only during the first four years of college — with at least half-time status at an accredited school. It covers all of the first $2,000 in expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000 (for a total $2,500). Schools will send students a 1098-T showing the amount paid last year in tuition and fees, but even expenses including books, supplies, and equipment such as computers can be offset. If the 1098-T does not max out the allowed credit, hold onto those receipts for supplies.

LIFETIME LEARNING CREDIT

This is the tax credit for the older student. Anyone taking classes at an eligible educational institution to acquire or improve job skills is eligible, even students taking just one class well after four years of undergraduate education. There are limits: Students are credited for only 20 percent of $10,000 in expenses ($2,000 is the maximum), though it can be applied to tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment. Individuals with an adjustable gross income between $56,000 and $66,000 (or between $112,000 but less than $132,000 for married filing jointly), will get a reduced amount. If it's over those thresholds, you can't claim the credit at all.

MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION

If you bought a home and had the mortgage in place before Dec. 15, 2017, you are still eligible to deduct interest on up to $1 million in mortgage debt. If you happened to sign on that date or later, though, your threshold drops to $750,000.

 

PREMIUM TAX CREDIT

If you or your family have health insurance from a government-run marketplace built through the Affordable Care Act, you may be eligible for this credit. Income is limited to up to $48,560 for individuals and up to $100,400 for a family of four, but the credit is usually equal to the cost of the second-lowest silver plan. Taxpayers can get this credit in advance to offset monthly premium bills, but claim too much and it must be paid back when filing. Those who get too little can claim the remainder when submitting returns.

DEPENDENT CARE CREDIT

If a child does not qualify for the Child Tax Credit because they are over 17, they may still be eligible for a $500 credit under new tax laws. The credit also applies for dependents who are elderly or disabled.

CHILD TAX CREDIT

Those who took advantage of the child tax credit in 2017 could claim a $1,000 credit on their income tax return for each child under 17 who qualified. In 2018, that doubles to $2,000 per qualifying child. The credit was also nonrefundable in previous years, but can now be refunded to 15 percent of earned income over $2,500, or up to $1,400. To qualify, children have to be 16 years or younger on the last day of 2018, be related to you, claimed as a dependent, be a documented U.S. citizen or resident, have lived with you for half of the tax year (though absences related to school, vacation, military service, and medical care are exempt) and must not provide more than half of his or her own support. The credit phases out for married taxpayers filing jointly with an income of $400,000 (or $200,000 for all other taxpayers).

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT

The Earned Income Tax Credit is for low- and moderate-income taxpayers with "earned income" such as wages, salaries, or self-employment pay (but not Social Security, unemployment, or investment income). The limits are strict, ranging from $15,270 for a single person with no children to $54,884 for a married couple with three children or more. The credit's value is worth $519 to $6,431 depending on filing status and number of dependents, but requires recipients to have less than $3,500 in investment income for the year.

IRA DEDUCTION

Whether it's through an employer or private plan, a traditional Individual Retirement Arrangement funded with pretax money — unlike a post-tax Roth IRA — is deductible up to a certain limit. Even if an account is opened and funded in 2019, any contributions made before the tax-filing deadline can be credited to the previous year. For 2018, the maximum contribution is $5,500 (or $6,500 for those 50 or older). There are also deduction limitations depending on the taxpayer's income and access to an employer-sponsored retirement account.

STUDENT LOAN INTEREST DEDUCTION

Students can still deduct up to $2,500 for interest paid on student loans — but get less if median adjusted gross income exceeds $65,000 ($135,000 for joint returns) and nothing if it's $80,000 or more ($165,000 or more for joint returns).

CREDIT FOR THE ELDERLY OR THE DISABLED

Taxpayers 65 or older — or younger but retired or on permanent and total disability — may be eligible for a credit. Taxable income must be below $17,500 (or $20,000 if married and filing jointly) and nontaxable Social Security, pension, or disability benefits must be below $5,000. If both partners qualify and file jointly, the income limits are $25,000 for taxable income and $7,500 for nontaxable benefits. The credit itself ranges between $3,750 and $7,000.

SAVERS CREDIT

It isn't much, but the Savers Credit gives back to low- and moderate-income people who contribute to a qualified retirement account. Taxpayers can get a credit for 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent of the first $2,000 contributed, depending on income and family size. To get the minimum 10 percent, the maximum allowed income is $31,500 for single filers, $47,250 for the head of a household, and $63,000 for joint filers. Also, beginning this year, beginning in 2018, if you're the designated beneficiary you may be eligible for a credit for contributions to your Achieving a Better Life Experience account for persons with disabilities.

SEP-IRA CONTRIBUTIONS

A longtime friend to small-business owners and freelancers, the Simplified Employee Pension IRA offers higher contribution limits than a traditional IRA. As their own employer, business owners and freelancers can contribute up to 25 percent of their annual income or $55,000, whichever is lower. As with a traditional IRA, contributions made before the tax-filing deadline (without an extension) can be applied to the previous year.

MORTGAGE INTEREST CREDIT

Taxpayers who get a Qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate worth up to $7,500 from a local or state government may be able to claim the Mortgage Interest Credit. The home must be the taxpayer's primary residence, and interest payments can't go to a taxpayer's relative. The credit is worth up to $2,000, and unused portions may be carried forward to the following year.

MEDICAL EXPENSES DEDUCTION

You can get a larger deduction for medical expenses in 2018 by doing absolutely nothing. Until recently, taxpayers 65 years or older could deduct total medical expenses that exceeded 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income. Even married couples that included one person 65 or older were eligible, but younger, single taxpayers could deduct only medical expenses that exceeded 10 percent of their AGI. For 2017, that threshold was slated to jump to the 10 percent of AGI for everyone, including those over 65; the recent tax reform set the threshold for everyone at 7.5 percent of gross income and made it retroactive to 2017. It stays in place for 2018, but will go back to 10 percent of AGI in 2019.

SOLO 401(K) CONTRIBUTIONS

Unfortunately, taxpayers can't just set one of these up before the tax deadline and save some cash. The one-participant 401(k), or solo or self-employed 401(k), requires you to file for a federal Employer Identification Number and set up the account by Dec. 31. But once a solo 401(k) is established, taxpayers can make contributions right up to the tax-filing date in April (or mid-October, with an extension). Total contributions can't exceed $55,000, but that's still nearly four times the maximum employee contribution to a standard 401(k) of $18,500.

BONUS DEPRECIATION

If you bought new office furniture, computer servers, cranes, end loaders, cattle, trucks, or taxis for a business last year, you may be able to write off more from them than you thought. Even if you built oil derricks, warehouses, office space, or utility plants after Sept. 26, 2017, the bonus depreciation you could claim on the first year of owning those assets increased from 50 percent just a day before to 100 percent "expensing" from Sept. 27 onward. Recent tax changes also extended bonus depreciation from items bought or built new to both new and used assets. That "expensing" applies to productions (qualified film, television, and/or staged performances) and even certain fruit or nuts. The law also increased the maximum deduction from $500,000 to $1 million, with the phase-out threshold increasing from $2 million to $2.5 million.

CAR EXPENSES

Self-employed people can deduct 54.5 cents a mile driven for business purposes the previous year; the rate goes up to 58 cents in 2019. That said, detailed mileage logs are required. Writing down the miles driven (odometer readings at the beginning and end of the trip help), the date, the business purpose of the trip, and the destination should be adequate. Taxpayers can also take a 18-cent-per-mile deduction for eligible miles driven for medical purposes in 2018, up from 17 cents in 2017 (and it's 20 cents in 2019). The standard mileage rate for charitable activities is unchanged at 14 cents. Moving expenses, however, no longer qualify for a deduction.

HOME OFFICE DEDUCTION

This one is tricky, as simply working on the couch or at a kitchen table doesn't cut it. A home office has to be a dedicated space for working and meeting clients and customers. Furthermore, office-related utilities including telephone, internet, and even heat and electricity have to be parsed out separately. You can try to determine which portion of a home's expenses, taxes, insurance, and depreciation is dedicated to a home office; a simplified version multiplies the square feet of the room by $5 (if the total size is 300 square feet or smaller). That said, you can only get this deduction if you're self-employed: It disappeared for employees in 2018.

STATE AND LOCAL TAX DEDUCTION

Under tax changes, deductions for state and local taxes (property tax and sales or income tax) are capped at $10,000 from 2018 through 2025. If your total state and local taxes and property taxes are typically more than the $10,000, there's no way to increase the deduction. The new tax law prohibited prepaying 2018 state and local taxes that were not imposed in 2017.

ADOPTION CREDIT

You may be able to take a tax credit of up to $13,810 for qualified expenses paid to adopt a child in 2018. Those expenses include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses (including amounts spent for meals and lodging), and readoption expenses for a foreign child. Those credits apply to adoptions of anyone under 18 years old or physically or mentally incapable of taking care of themselves. If your modified adjusted gross income is more than $207,140, the credit is reduced; those with MAGI of $247,140 or more can't take the credit.

ELECTRIC VEHICLE AND PLUG-IN HYBRID TAX CREDIT

Despite fears it would be eliminated, this credit still offers buyers of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles up to $7,500 for the purchase. While this credit isn't going to be around forever, it's still a formidable tool for boosting sales of these fuel-efficient vehicles in spite of low gas prices and the market's hunger for less-efficient SUVs.

FOREIGN TAX CREDIT

If you paid or accrued income tax in a foreign country or U.S. possession in 2018, you can use it as a credit against U.S. income tax. If you already exclude foreign earned income, foreign housing costs, foreign possessions, or income from Puerto Rico exempt from U.S. tax, you aren't eligible. Also, your foreign tax credit can't be more than your U.S. tax liability multiplied against a fraction made up of taxable income from outside the United States and total taxable sources.

HOME SALE EXCLUSION

Most people who sell a home know that, if they've sold at a gain, they may exclude up to $250,000 of it if single or $500,000 if married filing jointly. Granted, you actually had to live in that home for two of the past five years (military, foreign service, and intelligence personnel are exempt). What most homeowners don't realize is that the gain isn't only on the sale price of the home, but on improvements made, real estate agent sales commissions, closing costs, recording fees, and survey fees. Kibler suggests keeping clear records of all of it in case of an audit and to keep a big chunk of the gain tax-free.

FOREIGN EARNED INCOME EXCLUSION

If you live in a foreign country for at least 330 full days out of the year, you can have up to $104,100 of your salaries, wages, professional fees, and other amounts you get as an employee excluded from federally taxable income. You may also exclude amounts your employer pays for rent, furniture rental, parking, or other items.

HSA CONTRIBUTION LIMITS

The IRS will allow taxpayers to make tax-free contributions and withdrawals from Health Savings Accounts as long as they go toward qualifying medical expenses. High-deductible health plans — with premiums ranging between $1,350 and $6,650 for singles and $2,700 and $13,300 for families — allow taxpayers to contribute up to $3,450 for single filers or $6,900 for families to HSAs without any tax implications.

NONBUSINESS ENERGY TAX CREDIT

The Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit covers materials that meet the efficiency standards of the Department of Energy. This includes home insulation, exterior doors, exterior windows and skylights, some roofing materials, electric heat pumps, various water heaters, central air conditioning, biomass stoves, furnaces, boilers, and advanced circulation fans. You can claim 10 percent of the minor improvements or 100 percent of the big ones, but you'll get only a maximum $500 credit for all years of improvements combined. It also sets credit limits for windows ($200), boilers ($150), fans ($50), and bigger jobs ($300).

RESIDENTIAL RENEWABLE ENERGY TAX CREDIT

If you're thinking about going solar, installing a small windmill, looking into geothermal heat, or experimenting with fuel cells, there's tax incentive to do so. You can get a 30 percent rebate on any of the above, but act quickly. If you don't install it by the end of 2019, the rebate drops every year until 2022.

CASUALTY, DISASTER AND THEFT LOSSES

In previous years, a taxpayer could get a deduction for any mishap that occurred in their home. But starting in 2018, the damage must have occurred during a federally declared disaster for a taxpayer to get that same deduction. This deduction may return in full in 2025, but for now it's limited to disaster areas.

WORK-RELATED EDUCATION

The self-employed, including those with freelance income, can write off educational expenses for workshops, webinars, books, or other material that maintain or improve skills. While educational expenses to meet the minimum requirements of a trade or business — or related to getting into a new line of work — don't qualify, refresher courses, courses on current developments, and academic or vocational courses would. The deduction is the amount by which qualifying work-related expenses is greater than 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about tax evasion. Throwing some bones to the government is a way better alternative than going to jail. (And besides, who doesn’t like roads and public libraries?)

But there are some totally aboveboard ways to keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

Here are some ways to save money on taxes that won’t get you in trouble with Uncle Sam.

1. Reduce Your Taxable Income

One surefire way to not pay income tax: don’t earn any income!

Of course, for most of us, that plan won’t work. Unless you’re independently wealthy (or Bear Grylls-ing it in the woods somewhere), you need money to live on.

But there are ways to reduce your taxable income while still earning a living — and doing them might put you in a lower tax bracket. (To review: the amount you pay in income tax depends on how much of that income you earn, with higher earners being required, sensibly, to pay a higher percentage.)

The easiest way to reduce your taxable income — without throwing in the towel at work, of course — is to contribute to a tax-deferred retirement savings vehicle, like your company’s 401(k) plan.

Wages you defer to a 401(k) don’t count toward your taxable income for the year you make the contribution, though they will be taxed when you make withdrawals later.

Depending on how much you earn and how much you put away, you might be able to edge yourself down into a lower tax bracket… all while feeding your growing nest egg and setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement. Smart finances all around!

Which leads us to our second suggestion…

2. Contribute to a Traditional IRA

Even if you already have a retirement savings account at work, like a 401(k) or a 457(b), you can still open and contribute to a traditional IRA (Individual Retirement Account) — you just need to have earned taxable income and not yet have reached age 70 ½.

42 PHOTOS
States where Americans pay the highest in state income taxes
See Gallery
States where Americans pay the highest in state income taxes

California

State income tax: 1% to 13.3% 

Maine

State income tax: 5.8% to 10.15%

Oregon

State income tax: 5% to 9.9%

Minnesota

State income tax: 5.35% to 9.85%

Iowa

State income tax: 0.36% to 8.98%

New Jersey

State income tax: 1.4% to 8.97%

Vermont

State income tax: 3.55% to 8.95%

Washington, DC

State income tax: 4% to 8.95%

New York

State income tax: 4% to 8.82%

Hawaii

State income tax: 1.4% to 8.25%

Wisconsin

State income tax: 4% to 7.65%

Idaho

State income tax: 1.6% to 7.4%

South Carolina

State income tax: 0% to 7%

Connecticut

State income tax: 3% to 6.99%

Arkansas

State income tax: 0.9% to 6.9%

Montana

State income tax: 1% to 6.9%

Nebraska

State income tax: 2.46% to 6.84%

Delaware

State income tax: 2.2% to 6.6%

West Virginia

State income tax: 3% to 6.5%

Georgia

State income tax: 1% to 6%

Kentucky

State income tax: 2% to 6%

Louisiana

State income tax: 2% to 6%

Missouri

State income tax: 1.5% to 6%

Rhode Island

State income tax: 3.75% to 5.99%

Maryland

State income tax: 2% to 5.75%

North Carolina

State income tax: 5.75%

Virginia

State income tax: 2% to 5.75%

Oklahoma

State income tax: 0.5% to 5.25%

Massachusetts

State income tax: 5.1%

Alabama

State income tax: 2% to 5%

Mississippi

State income tax: 3% to 5%

Utah

State income tax: 5%

Ohio

State income tax: 0.495% to 4.997%

New Mexico

State income tax: 1.7% to 4.9%

Colorado

State income tax: 4.63%

Kansas

State income tax: 2.7% to 4.6%

Arizona

State income tax: 2.59% to 4.54%

Michigan

State income tax: 4.25%

Illinois

State income tax: 3.75%

Indiana

State income tax: 3.3%

Pennsylvania

State income tax: 3.07%

North Dakota

State income tax: 1.1% to 2.9%

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

What Is a Traditional IRA?

Just like that company-sponsored retirement plan we were talking about, the funds you contribute to your IRA don’t count toward your taxable income.

The exception: a Roth IRA, in which contributions are taxed today but then grow tax-free thereafter.

How Much Can You Contribute?

For 2018, you can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA, or $6,500 if you’re over the age of 50. (Looking ahead to the future? 2019’s contribution caps have been raised to $6,000 and $7,000, respectively.)

Keep in mind that you have until tax day to max out your contribution for the previous calendar year.

An important caveat: If you’re a relatively high roller (i.e., you earn more than $100,000), you may not be able to deduct your full IRA contribution or any contribution at all.

Your specific eligibility will depend on whether you’re filing singly or jointly and whether or not you’re covered by a retirement plan at work; head to the IRS website for full details on these phase-out limits.

3. Consider a Health Savings Account

While IRAs are widely available and applicable to almost everyone, quite a few other investment accounts can get you this same kind of tax break.

What Is a Health Savings Account?

A Health Savings Account (HSA), is a tax-exempt option if your healthcare plan has a high deductible. Not only are your contributions deductible, but withdrawals aren’t taxed, either, as long as they’re used for qualified medical expenses.

How Much Can You Contribute?

In 2019, you can contribute up to $3,500 to an HSA if you have individual coverage, and up to $7,000 if your high-deductible health care plan (HDHP) covers a family.

And you don’t have to spend it all, either — you can leave funds in your HSA indefinitely since they’re not subject to required minimum distributions. (And if you’re like most of us, you’ll have more health care-related costs as you get older, anyway.)

However, do keep in mind that if you receive Medicare coverage, you might not be eligible to make HSA contributions, since you’ll have coverage outside of your HDHP.

10 PHOTOS
10 states with the highest income tax
See Gallery
10 states with the highest income tax

10. Wisconsin

Personal income tax rate: 7.65%

9. New York

Personal income tax rate: 8.82%

8. Washington D.C. 

Personal income tax rate: 8.95%

7. Vermont

Personal income tax rate: 8.95%

6. New Jersey

Personal income tax rate: 8.97%

5. Iowa

Personal income tax rate: 8.98%

4. Minnesota

Personal income tax rate: 9.85%

3. Oregon

Personal income tax rate: 9.9%

2. Hawaii

Personal income tax rate: 11%

1. California

Personal income tax rate: 13.3%

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

4. Put Your Kids Through College

If you’ve got kids, chances are you’re already gritting your teeth just thinking about paying for college — even if you’re not planning on paying for all of it.

According to U.S. News & World Report, average costs range from $9,716 to $35,676 for a single year of education, so it’s important to get ahead of that bill now.

What Is a 529 Plan?

A 529 plan is an investment vehicle specifically built for educational savings. You can use it to pay for your kids’ college tuition — or even to send yourself or your spouse to school. The exact tax benefits vary by state, and the contributions aren’t deductible on your federal return.

But more than 30 states offer full or partial tax deduction or credits on 529 contributions, and the funds are allowed to grow tax-free. They won’t be taxed on withdrawal, either, so long as they’re used for qualified educational expenses.

What Expenses Qualify for the 529 Plan?

What qualifies, you ask? College tuition, fees, books and computers all count, and in some cases, it’ll cover room and board.  You can also take out up to $10,000 per year to pay for tuition at private or religious K-12 schools. (That’s $10,000 per beneficiary.)

But if you try to take the money out to pay for red Solo cups, you’ll be subject to regular income tax on the withdrawal, as well as an additional 10% penalty. So keep those noses in the books if you want to keep your own books nice and tidy!

5. Give It Away

Looking for a way to save money on taxes… and get that warm, fuzzy feeling? Charitable donations are tax-deductible, and they can be a great way to lower your overall tax liability.

The easiest way to go about this strategy might be to just write a check to your favorite charity. But if you’re KonMari-ing your life, you can also itemize those trash-bagged Goodwill donations as deductions. (Of course, you will need to say “yes” when the attendant asks if you want a receipt, should you want to do so.)

5 PHOTOS
5 ridiculously simple ways to lower your taxes
See Gallery
5 ridiculously simple ways to lower your taxes

1. Contribute more to a retirement account

If you put money into a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, you'll benefit in two ways. First, you'll get the financial security that comes with having savings available in retirement, and the earlier in life you start contributing, the more opportunity you'll give your money to grow. But you'll also benefit from a tax perspective, because the amount you contribute will go in pre-tax. What this means is that if you make $50,000 a year but put $5,000 into your 401(k), you'll only pay taxes on $45,000 of income. Talk about a win-win!

PeopleImages.com via Getty Images

2. Donate items you no longer use

Is your basement or hall closet overflowing with clothing, tools, and gadgets you don't need? If you donate those items to a registered charity, you'll get to claim a deduction on your taxes. All you need to do is obtain an itemized receipt of what you give away to verify your donation, and you're all set.

sirastock via Getty Images

3. Open a flexible spending account

Medical care can be a huge expense for some families. Americans spent an estimated $416 billion on out-of-pocket medical expenses in 2014, and that number is expected to climb to $608 billion by 2019. But if you sign up for a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), you'll get to pay for eligible medical expenses, like copays and prescription drugs, with pre-tax dollars. For 2016, you can allocate up to $2,550 to an FSA, which means that if your effective tax rate is 25%, you'll save $637 by contributing the maximum. But don't make the mistake of overfunding your FSA. The money you contribute goes in on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, so if you put in the full $2,550 but only rack up $2,000 in eligible expenses, you'll have to kiss that remaining $550 goodbye.

Image Source via Getty Images

4. Use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care

Childcare is one of the greatest expenses families with young children face. The average American household currently spends $10,192 a year on full-time day care center care, $7,700 a year on regular after-school babysitting, and $28,900 on a full-time nanny. The good news, however, is that you can shave a fair amount of money off your tax bill by opening a dependent care FSA. Similar to a healthcare FSA, a dependent care FSA allows you to allocate pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible child care expenses, which include preschool and summer camp. For 2016, a couple filing a joint tax return can contribute up to $5,000 a year in pre-tax dollars. If you max out that limit and your effective tax rate is 25%, you'll save $1,250 in taxes. The only catch is that like a healthcare FSA, if you end up spending less during the year on eligible expenses than what you put in, you'll forfeit your remaining balance.

Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

5. Sign up for commuter benefits

Traffic and rail delays can be a huge source of daily aggravation. But if your commute can't serve the purpose of helping you relax and ease in and out of your workday, it can at least help you lower your taxes. All you need to do is sign up for commuter benefits through your employer, and you'll get to use pre-tax dollars to pay for the costs you already incur. For 2016, you can allocate up to $255 per month in pre-tax dollars for transit and up to $255 a month for parking for a combined total of $510. If you hit that maximum and your effective tax rate is 25%, you'll save $1,530 a year on your taxes.

Nobody likes paying taxes, and there's certainly no reason to pay more than you have to. With a few smart moves, you can lower the amount you ultimately fork over to the IRS and keep more money in your pocket.

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

But Keep the Books

Of course, doing so does mean keeping track of the estimated value of each of those old t-shirts and coffee makers. But lots of tax software includes tools to help you.

For instance, TurboTax’s ItsDeductible module will keep a running tally of your donations year-round, and help you make those value estimations in the first place.

The cans you drop off at the local food bank count, too, as do certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred by volunteering, such as gas and mileage.

You’ll save money while serving your community — what more could you ask of a tax-reduction strategy?

6. Know Your Deductions

You may already know that certain expenses are tax-deductible. But which ones, exactly?

Major medical bills: If you’ve spent more than 7.5% of your AGI (adjusted gross income) on qualified medical expenses, you may be able to write them off.

Student loan debt interest: Deductible up to $2,500

Mortgage interest and local property taxes: These may both be eligible for partial deductions — and if you’re a first-time buyer, you may be able to make penalty-free withdrawals from that IRA we were talking about earlier.

Charitable donations: These have a tax-deductible status, as mentioned above.

Business-related deductions: If you’re a freelancer or you work from home, you should also look into business-related deductions, like the cost of your home office space.

You might also be able to deduct certain supplies, travel expenses, and even meals and entertainment. Here are the full deets on freelancing deductions.

Itemizing your deductions does take time, however, and not everyone has enough to supersede the standard deduction — which is a fairly hefty $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers in 2018.

So if you haven’t footed any of the expenses we mentioned, consider skipping this strategy.

7. Take Advantage of Tax Credits

In certain scenarios, the IRS extends credits to eligible taxpayers — for instance, those pursuing continued education or returning to school.

American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning Credits: Depending on your enrollment status, AGI, and how you’ve paid for educational expenses, you may be entitled to the American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning Credits, along with tuition and fee deductions. (Check out this quick quiz from the IRS, which will tell you if you’re qualified in just 10 minutes.)

Earned Income Tax Credit: If you’re not quite making fat stacks, you might be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit the IRS extends to low-to-moderate earners.

Your credit depends on your exact level of income as well as your marital status and number of dependents. For details, check out the IRS’ Earned Income Tax Credit fact sheet.

The cool thing about tax credits is that they don’t just reduce the amount you’ll pay in income taxes. Rather, they count as an actual reduction of your total tax bill.

So, for instance, if you would have owed $500 and claim $1,000 in tax credits, not only will your payment be waived — you’ll also receive a $500 return.

3 Ways to Save Money on Taxes Today and Tomorrow

While the strategies above are great ways to get ahead of a nasty tax bill this year, taking a proactive approach can help you pay less in taxes every year hereafter. Here are our suggestions.

1. Adjust Your Withholdings.

If you work for an employer, you’ve filed a W-4 — which is the document where you specify how much of your wages should be withheld for taxes.

It might seem intuitive to keep your withholdings as low as possible so you keep more of your paycheck in your pocket. But if you found you owed money in April, you might want to go in and tweak it so you don’t run into the same problem next year.

2. Automate Your Contributions to Those Tax-Deferred Accounts.

Chances are your employer automatically deposits your deferrals into your 401(k). But if you open an IRA, HSA or 529, you’ll have to make contributions manually… and it’s all too easy to forget to do so (or, let’s be honest, spend the money on something else.)

Most account providers will allow you to set up automatic contributions on a regular basis, be it weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. That way, you’ll be sure to add enough funds to the account to significantly lower your tax bill while boosting the savings you’ll use for those qualified expenses down the line.

3. Work for Yourself? Don’t Forget to Pay Your Quarterlies!

Freelancers get a lot of autonomy, but it does come with a substantial drawback: Nobody’s withholding your taxes for you, so you’ve got to pay them yourself.

And if you don’t keep up with your estimated quarterly tax payments — or if you forget about self-employment tax, which adds an additional 15% to the usual 20% — you could be facing a downright scary situation come April.

So funnel about a third of every paycheck you make into a separate account, and label it “PROPERTY OF UNCLE SAM: DO NOT TOUCH.”

It can be painful to see how much of your hard-earned hustle money has to be shipped off to the government… but not nearly as painful as having to cut a five-figure check come springtime.

Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool, Roads & Kingdoms and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

The 10 Most Overlooked Tax Deductions

Don't overpay taxes by overlooking these tax deductions. See the 10 most common deductions taxpayers miss on their tax returns so you can keep more money in your pocket.

Read More

Brought to you by TurboTax.com

How to Find a Good CPA for Your Taxes

Finding a good CPA for your taxes is simple with these seven tips: 1. Ask about their specialization; 2. Verify their identification number, 3. Look up their license, 4. Consider their experience, 5. Confirm their willingness to sign, 6. Ask for advice, and 7. Determine their fees.

Read More

Brought to you by TurboTax.com

Reporting Self-Employment Business Income and Deductions

Self-employed taxpayers report their business income and expenses on Schedule C. TurboTax can help make the job easier.

Read More

Brought to you by TurboTax.com

2018 Tax Reform Impact: What You Should Know

Congress has passed the largest piece of tax reform legislation in more than three decades. The bill went into place on January 1, 2018, which means that it will affect the taxes of most taxpayers for the 2018 tax year.

Read More

Brought to you by TurboTax.com
Read Full Story
Your resource on tax filing
Tax season is here! Check out the Tax Center on AOL Finance for all the tips and tools you need to maximize your return.