Tax awareness should be a continuing concern throughout the year. While income tax considerations will rarely be the single determining factor in financial decisions, tax impact should certainly be one of the elements considered.
I said "should be a continuing concern" -- yet I know that for most people it's only in the spring that their fancies turn to tax matters.
But at that point "fantasies" might well be a better word than "fancies." With the exception of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs -- more about them later), by March 1983 it's too late to do anything to reduce your 1982 tax bill.
We're now in the second half of the final quarter of the year, with less than six weeks left until Dec. 31. If you don't take a good look now at your tax situation, it will soon be too late.
You will have missed the boat if you wait to consider tax-saving opportunities until you start work on your 1982 tax return next spring.
So let's talk about some of the things you can do between now and the end of the year to ease your 1982 (and perhaps 1983) tax burden.
Tax planning was never an exact or a simple science. But the waters are even murkier than usual, as a result of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA '81) and the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA '82).
The basic rule has been to defer income to the following year and to accelerate deductions into the current year if you expect your financial position to continue substantially unchanged.
But trying to determine what your tax situation will be next year is suddenly a great deal more complicated than in the past. Awareness of the impact of all the new rules on your personal tax exposure is the key to tax savings.
I think perhaps it's time to rewrite the rule. Instead of suggesting simply that you should defer income and accelerate deductions, let's say that you should attempt to move income and deductions into whichever year will give you the larger tax benefit. And you must determine relative tax benefit almost on an item-by-item basis.
The multiyear personal tax reduction set in place by ERTA '81 was left untouched by TEFRA '82. Changes in the next Congress as a result of this month's election raise the specter of further action in 1983 and make forecasting even more difficult.
But the tax cut of July 1, 1982, assures an average tax rate reduction of around 4 1/2 percent in any case. And if the Congress takes no further action we will see the full planned 9 percent cut. (Withholding from wages will then drop again on July 1, 1983.)
If you're a two-earner family, you should consider the impact of the further easing of the "marriage tax penalty." For 1982, the maximum exclusion is $1,500 -- 5 percent of the earned income up to $30,000 of the spouse with the lower earnings.
For 1983 and later years the exclusion doubles, to 10 percent and a maximum exclusion of $3,000, based on the same earnings ceiling of $30,000. If you qualify, this reduction in your taxable income could affect your tax planning.
Payments into an IRA or Keogh account can similarly affect your tax bracket. If you were able to deposit the maximum in 1982 but do not expect to do so for 1983, you conceivably could end up in a higher bracket next year despite the general tax reduction.
The bottom line: If you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket in 1983 than in 1982, then you should follow the old rule and attempt to defer income until next year and probably should speed up eligible deductions into 1982.
If you're a salaried employe there isn't much you can do about deferring wages. But if you're self-employed, it might pay to put off December billing until late in the month so payments don't come in until 1983.