Dear Helaine: My husband and I are recently married and have realized we are going to owe a significant chunk of money to the IRS this year, thanks to the fact that I make significantly more than he does. I know we could still contribute to an IRA for this year, and still get the tax deduction, but we both have workplace retirement plans and therefore I don’t think we qualify. We have not maxed out our 401(k) contributions, however, and I was thinking that transferring some of our savings into our 401(k)s could be a good way to lower the taxes we owe. Is this a feasible option? If not, do you have another suggestion? — Newlywed Tax Blues
Dear Newlywed: Stop right now! Before you do anything, you need to sit down with a certified public accountant, review your situation, and find out if there is anything you can do to reduce the bill that you are not aware of.
Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take money from our personal savings accounts and place it in a 401(k). These are workplace retirement plans, after all. But there is most likely nothing stopping you and your spouse from simply upping your 401(k) contributions. For 2018, the IRS limit is $18,500 or, if you are at least 50 years old, $24,500. Simply ask your employers if you can change the percentage of your salary you put in your 401(k) until you reach either the legal limit or the amount you can afford to put aside. Then change your contributions back to where they were previously.
Use your savings to pay your bills and other living expenses. One catch: You should be aware that you will face a capital gains tax bill if you need to sell off assets to access that money.
Moreover, it’s not strictly true that you can’t contribute to an IRA and receive a tax deduction when you are contributing to a 401(k). If your joint adjusted gross income is $101,000 or less, you can contribute the full $5,500 ($6,500 if you are 50 or older) to an IRA and receive the full deduction. You can get partial credit if your adjusted gross income is $121,000 or less. In addition, if you or your spouse has a side hustle, you can set up a solo 401(k) or Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), and put a portion of those earnings in it, which will serve the twofold purpose of upping your retirement savings and reducing your tax bill.
One other thing: Congratulations!