I forget what show I was watching, but it was one of those shows where you have all that Bloomberg ticker crap taking up 75% of the screen and little faces jibber jabbering in the leftover space, but the guy talked briefly about how your IRS 1040 (the full incarnation of the form everyone fills out for taxes) gives you subtle reminders of the things you should do to help plan your financial future. I didn’t watch the whole thing but I thought it’d be fun to go through each relevant line (yeah, I’m a sadist) and see how it could be used as a subtle yearly financial plan reminder.
Line 8a – Taxable Interest
Line 8b – Tax-exempt Interest
There are investment vehicles out there that are tax exempt at certain government levels. For example, an EE/E bond is exempt from State and local income taxes but not from federal taxes. This is a reminder that sometimes your most conservative assets may be better placed in a tax-exempt bond than in a savings account bearing 3.0%. Of course, you sacrifice flexibility but you should know tax-exempt investments are out there but you do keep Uncle Sam’s grubby little paws off your loot.
Line 13 – Capital gain or (loss)
This is something you can only capitalize on if you remember it before December 31st. If you have a loss and want to write it off, sell it to offset a gain you may have had. Just remember not to repurchase shares in the same company within 31 days or the “wash” rule will bite you (and you won’t be able to write off the loss). Did you buy shares of JDS Uniphase and got burned badly in the bubble? Yeah, me too, write it off now because they’re never going to break even for you.
Line 15a – IRA distributions
Line 25 – IRA deduction
Contribute to a Roth or any other type of IRA? These lines are a reminder that perhaps you should be planning for your retirement because Social Security won’t be enough to sustain a lavish retirement lifestyle! Retirement planning, especially for young workers, is critical because it is something that benefits with the passage of time. The more you sow now, the greater the benefits you will reap in the future. You want to be living in luxury when you’re retired, not a cardboard box. (You cannot deduct Roth contributions on your return, I just intended for that line to serve as a reminder to plan for retirement)
Line 33 – Penalty on early withdrawal of savings
Tsk tsk! That IRA or 401k isn’t a slush fund you can withdraw on to buy that shiny [whatever]. Let line 33 be a reminder that you will be penalized for mortgaging a portion of your retirement for gratification now. Alright, I’m just kidding about the severity but you should be readily dipping into your retirement for every thing. Sometimes it makes financial sense, but most (90%) of the time it’s a bad idea. (Example of good ideas? In times of hardship, dipping into the retirement savings may be unavoidable)
Line 49 – Education credits
The government will help you educate yourself, even if your employer will not. Learn about Hope Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits and see how you or your dependents may benefit from them.
Unless I’ve missed anything glaring, those 5 “lines” cover a lot of the basic financial planning advice given out these days. Consider all investment opportunities with respect to the tax advantages, plan for your future, don’t mess up your future by needlessly borrowing from it, and always educate yourself. I’m not saying that the dreaded tax form should be your financial advisor, a human being almost always beats a piece of paper, but it gives you a couple subtle reminders for things you may have forgotten or conveniently ignored. Take a look at your return and see if you’ve taken advantage of everything you could’ve.