5 Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

A happy senior holds $100 banknotes
Photo by Berna Namoglu / Shutterstock.com

How does the adage go? With age comes … new ways to save on taxes.

While you can’t stop filing taxes just because you retire, being a retiree often means you can claim some worthwhile tax credits and deductions.

In some cases, these tax breaks are available to both workers and retirees, so the latter often don’t realize they might be eligible. In other cases, these tax breaks are effectively reserved for older taxpayers, meaning taxpayers may not hear about them until later in life.

Following are several examples of tax breaks that retirees often overlook.

1. Bigger standard deduction

For seniors who don’t itemize their tax deductions, a higher standard deduction is a free potential reduction in your tax bill.

Seniors generally get an increase of $1,300 per person (if married) or $1,650 per person (if single) from the usual standard deduction. For tax year 2019 — meaning the tax return that’s due in April — the IRS defines “senior” as someone born before Jan. 2, 1955.

For two married seniors, for example, that’s an extra $2,600 they get to subtract from their taxable income — without doing any work or keeping any receipts. What savings that actually translates into will depend on their income, but it means a lower starting figure for Uncle Sam to tax them on.

2. Saver’s Credit

What’s better than a tax deduction? A tax credit! A deduction lowers your taxable income, but a credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar.

The Saver’s Credit isn’t specifically for retirees, so they might easily overlook it. But it’s for any eligible taxpayer who is saving money in a retirement account. That means it’s available to retirees who are still able to stash cash in a retirement account — assuming they otherwise qualify for the credit.

So, for as long as you’re contributing to a retirement plan, you should be checking your eligibility for the Saver’s Credit each year. If you’re eligible, it could reduce your taxes by up to $2,000 — or $4,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return.

The main eligibility requirement is having an income below a certain threshold, as we detail in “This Overlooked Retirement Tax Credit Gets Better in 2020.”

3. Health insurance premium deduction

If you are self-employed, you may be able to deduct your premiums for Medicare or other health insurance plans as a business expense. According to the IRS:

“You may be able to deduct the amount you paid for medical and dental insurance and qualified long-term care insurance for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. … Medicare premiums you voluntarily pay to obtain insurance in your name that is similar to qualifying private health insurance can be used to figure the deduction.”

For example, the Medicare Part B standard monthly premium for 2019 was $135.50 per month — a potential write-off of $1,626.

4. Spousal contributions to traditional IRAs

You can only contribute to an individual retirement account (IRA) if you have earned income such as wages, but that can be your spouse’s income.

This means a working spouse can help a non-working spouse save money in a retirement account — which is why we cite spousal IRAs in “5 Ways Marriage Can Make You Wealthier.”

Spousal contributions to a traditional IRA — as opposed to a Roth IRA — also qualify you for a tax deduction, assuming you meet income and other eligibility requirements.

To learn more about these two types of accounts, check out “Which Is Better — a Traditional or Roth Retirement Plan?

5. Charity benefit without itemizing

Generally, taxpayers have to itemize their deductions — as opposed to claiming the standard deduction — if they want credit for donating to charity. And after the enactment of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, standard deductions got bigger, meaning fewer people benefit from itemizing.

Some retirees may effectively be able to get around this, however.

After age 70½, you can transfer money from an IRA to a charity and have the amount count toward your required minimum distribution (RMD) without counting as taxable income for you. The IRS calls it a “qualified charitable distribution.”

This isn’t a true tax credit or deduction but still has the effect of lowering your taxable income and thus possibly your tax bill, because your RMDs would usually otherwise count as taxable income.

Note that while a recently enacted federal law, the Secure Act, changed the RMD age to 72 starting this year, qualified charitable distributions can still be made at age 70½, reports Ed Slott & Co.

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