One thing that never changes in life is that every year your taxes are due in April. But as you get older and your life evolves, the way you file your taxes and what deductions you take may change.
Stash has put together some tips to help you navigate how filing your taxes might change as you go through some of the most common life phases. If you’re graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, having a child, or retiring, we’ll explain the basics.
You’re a new grad!
Graduating from college can signify the beginning of your career and adult life. But if you’re one of the 42% of college students who have student debt—and Americans have $1.4 trillion worth of educational debt—it also means paying back those student loans.
The good news is that after graduation, you can deduct some of that interest when you file your taxes. If you were legally required to pay interest on your student loans in 2019 and you did so, you can deduct up to $2,500 from your taxable income.
If you recently tied the knot, then you must decide whether to file your taxes jointly with your spouse or to file individually. It’s often beneficial for married couples to file their taxes jointly, according to the Tax Policy Center. For all but the highest income bracket, income bracket amounts double for married couples. So filing jointly most likely means that a couple’s income will be taxed at a lower rate than it would be if they were to file separately. The standard deduction also doubles from $12,200 to $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.
Married couples where one spouse earns significantly more than another are likely to benefit from filing jointly. For example, say one spouse makes $100,000 and one makes $35,000. If the couple files jointly, they fall in the income bracket taxed at 22%. If the couple files individually, the person making $100,000 is taxed at 24% and the person making $35,000 is taxed at 12%. In this case, the couple most likely pays less in taxes collectively if they file jointly.
Meanwhile, couples in which both people make a similar salary could find themselves pushed into a higher tax bracket. Married couples who collectively make more than $612,350, according to the 2019 tax brackets, are also more likely to face something called a marriage penalty by filing jointly. Say both spouses earn $315,000. If they file individually, they will each be taxed at 35%. If they file jointly, they will be taxed at 37%.
Being married can also affect how you pay taxes on a traditional individual retirement account (IRA), and it changes the income requirements for a Roth IRA.
If you are filing jointly and your spouse is covered by a work-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) and you earn $103,000 or less, you can deduct up to your full IRA contribution limit, according to the IRS. The tax deduction begins to phase out—or get smaller—if you earn between $103,000 and $123,000, and ends completely at $123,000. If you are filing separately or jointly and your spouse is not covered by a work-sponsored plan, you can fully deduct your contribution limit, regardless of your income.
Marriage can change how much money you can contribute annually to a Roth IRA. Contributions begin to phase out when you earn more than $122,000 as a single tax filer or when you earn more than $193,000 as a married couple. When you earn $137,000 or more as a single tax filer, you can no longer contribute to a Roth. The same holds true for married couples, who can no longer contribute if their joint income is $203,000 or more.
For additional information, including the deduction limits for those filing as single, head to the IRS website.
You bought a house!
If you’re part of the 65% of consumers who own a home as of 2019, you’re entitled to various tax benefits.
Say you’re married, filing jointly, and own a home. If you itemize deductions when you file, you can deduct the interest on up to $750,000 of a mortgage and up to $10,000 in state and local property taxes.
Homeowners who are living in their homes in the U.S. are excluded from paying taxes on something called “imputed rent”, which is what the cost of renting the home would be if they were renting it, according to the Tax Policy Center.
If you sold your home last year, you may also be able to deduct up to $250,000 in capital gains if you’re filing individually, or $500,000 if you’re filing jointly. If that home was where you predominantly lived for two out of the last five years, and you haven’t excluded a home in the last two years, you might be eligible for that tax break.
You started a family!
Say you had a baby this year. If you’re filing jointly and make less than $400,000, you may be eligible for the Child Tax Credit. For each child under the age of 17, you can claim $2,000. Keep in mind that your baby needs to have a Social Security number in order to claim the deduction.
If you’re a single parent, you may be able to file as the head of your household. If you’ve been “unmarried” since the last day of 2019, you have one qualifying dependent, and you pay for 50% or more of your household’s expenses, you can file as the head of household and potentially benefit from lower head of household tax rates.
For example, if you earn $45,000, you would be taxed at 12% if you file as the head of household. If you do not file as the head of household, you would be taxed at 22%. A head of household also has a higher standard deduction of $18,350.
You’re retired (or are saving for retirement)!
Whether you retired in 2019, or are saving for retirement in 2019, you’ll need to account for your retirement accounts when you file your taxes. While you can’t deduct Roth IRA contributions when you file, you may be able to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA and a 401(k).
For 2019, you could contribute $6,000 annually into a traditional or Roth IRA account. In contrast, you could deposit up to $19,000 into a traditional or Roth 401(k) account in 2019. If you’re 50 or older, you can make catch-up contributions. For an IRA, you can put an additional $1,000 away annually. For a 401(k), you can put away an additional $6,000.
Remember that for the 2019 tax year, once you turn 70½, you need to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) from your retirement accounts. (The age will change to 72 in 2020.) An RMD is an amount you’re required by tax law to take out of a retirement account each year, based on an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) formula. These withdrawals will be taxed, unless the money was taxed before it was saved in a retirement account, as is the case with a Roth IRA.
No matter what life stage you’re in, it’s important to stay informed as tax season continues and to file your taxes every April.