When you are starting out, there is a lot to juggle. Student loans, office politics, dating, and roommates to name a few. Your mountain of responsibilities may not leave time for anything else. So being proactive with money — especially taxes — may be at the bottom of your priorities.
No one expects you to be a tax expert, but a little advance planning could make a big difference. Being proactive now may instill good habits for your 30s, 40s — and beyond. These are the best places to start.
Look for ways to save on taxes at work
Working full-time is more than just a steady paycheck. Your company may offer a slew of benefits, many of which could save you money in taxes. These are some of the most common tax savings opportunities you will see:
- 401(k) or 403(b) – Many companies offer 401(k) or 403(b) retirement savings plans. The power of automation allows you to save a percentage of every paycheck. Often, these contributions happen before taxes. This may lower your taxable income for the year. Tip: Companies are often willing to match a percentage of your savings. Always take advantage of this extra money.
- Health savings accounts (HSAs) – If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you know how expensive it can be. To offset the costs, some companies may offer an HSA. Like your 401(k), the money goes in before taxes. You can use it anytime for qualified medical expenses. The money is yours even when you leave the company.
- Flexible spending account (FSA) – FSAs are another way to save money pre-tax for medical expenses. These are “use-it-or-lose-it” accounts, so you have to spend the balance by the end of the year. You will also lose your FSA when you change jobs.
Consider opening an individual retirement account (IRA)
When you are in your 20s, time is on your side. The more you save and invest now, the more you could have by retirement. On top of your savings plan at work, you may also save money for the future with an individual retirement account (IRA). These accounts come in two flavors:
- Traditional IRA – Like your 401(k) or 403(b), traditional IRA contributions are pre-tax. This means you don’t owe taxes on the money now — you will have to pay when you withdraw the money.
- Roth IRA – Roth IRAs are exactly the opposite. Your money goes in after taxes, so you don’t get an immediate tax benefit. But the money grows tax-free and you won’t owe income taxes when you take it out in retirement.
Invest in your career
With decades ahead of you, there is no better time to invest in your career. Even if you are paying off student loans, and most folks are, you shouldn’t overlook future career growth. Your company may offer tax-free reimbursements for taking courses. Or, if you pay for courses yourself, you may qualify for education-related tax credits.
Get organized with tax documents
There is nothing worse than repeating the same mistakes every tax season. Set a goal of creating a system to stay organized. Stick with it. There needs to be a specific place, year-round, for all your important tax documents. Rather than tossing them into your giant stack of paperwork — a.k.a. the abyss — be deliberate and file them. You will be grateful once next year’s tax season rolls around.
Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.