4 tax-smart savings tips for clients

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Clients need to save enough, but they also must save smart enough.

Here are four tax-smart planning strategies to get them on the right savings path for retirement:

1. Optimizing after-tax returns through an asset location strategy. One strategy that financial advisors can use to help high-net-worth clients gain better tax optimization and reduce tax drag is proper asset allocation.

This is accomplished by understanding the nature of how an investment will be taxed.

For example, a high-tax-bracket client could relegate investments that generate tax-efficient income, such as municipal bonds and stocks that will be held long term to a taxable account and ordinary income investments to a tax-deferred account, says Leslie Thompson, managing principal at Spectrum Management Group in Indianapolis.

“You also need to understand the tax efficiency of specific types of investment structures, such as [exchange-traded funds] versus mutual funds and active versus passive management, and properly locate these holdings among different types of accounts to take advantage of how an account taxes income and the tax efficiency of the particular investment,” she says.

2. Tax advantages from deferring compensation. If some clients still work and have maxed out on other workplace savings options, they can continue saving through a non-qualified deferred compensation plan if their company has one.

This allows them to allocate some portion of their paycheck.

According to a Fidelity Investments report, deferring this income has two distinct advantages: Clients don’t pay income on that portion of their compensation in the year they defer it (they pay only Social Security and Medicare taxes). Also, they can invest the money, so it has the potential to grow tax deferred until they receive it.

3. Consider bunching investment. Another tax savings strategy is to bunch client deductions in different years.

Medical deductions work particularly well with this strategy, according to Larry Luxenberg, a certified financial planner and the managing partner and chief investment officer at Lexington Avenue Capital Management in New York.

For example, taking a medical deduction now requires spending more than 10 percentage points of adjusted gross income, he says.

“This is a tough hurdle for most people,” Luxenberg says. “But if you have some condition that is somewhat temporary or the provider is flexible, you may be able to bunch deductions that hit that hurdle some of the time, perhaps in a low-income year.”

4. Tax deduction from the Internal Revenue Service (temporary). The good news: If a client is 65 or older, they may continue to deduct total medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of their adjusted income through 2016, according to the IRS website. And if married and only one spouse is 65 or older they can still deduct total medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of their adjusted income.

The bad news: The exemption is temporary. Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those 65 and older.

Bruce W. Fraser, a New York financial writer, is a contributing editor to Financial Planning and On Wall Street magazines.

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