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Last year, for the first time in my working life, I had to pay taxes in April when I filed my tax return. It was largely attributed to the fact that both my hubby and I did not carry health insurance for ourselves, thus resulting in a health care tax. To prevent a repeat of that scenario this year, I employed four strategies that increased my tax refund.
As a way to decrease our taxes owed last year, my hubby and I made $4,500.00 in IRA contributions right before April 15. Even though we made the contributions in 2016, it counted towards our 2015 taxes, thanks to the IRS’ attempt to foster retirement savings. You’re allowed to deduct your IRA contributions, among other deductions, from your income, in calculating your AGI and taxable income, thus lowering your taxes.
Related post: Understanding The 1040 Individual Tax Return
Related post: It’s Never Too Late To Save For Retirement
We’ve done this twice now, for our 2014 and 2015 taxes, both right when we filed our taxes. Rather than waiting until the last moment like I do, you can make small regular contributions throughout the year to ease the cash flow burden it creates in April. Just keep in mind there are IRA contribution limits every year.
The limit for 2016 is $5,500.00 for those under 50, and $6,500.00 for those 50 and over.
When I changed my employer in February 2016, I made a mental note to set up a 401(K) contribution as soon as I became eligible in six months. In the second week of August, I had HR set up my retirement account, and have even increased my contribute rate since then. My hubby also contributes to his 401(K), although at a much lower rate than I do.
401(K) contributions basically lower your taxable wages by deferring a portion of your income to your retirement account. So if your salary is $50,000 a year, and you contribute 10% to your 401(K), which is currently my contribution rate, the wages you put on your tax return is actually $5,000.00 less (10% X $50,000.00) at $45,000 a year, with the $5,000.00 deferred to a future year, when you withdraw the money from your 401(K). As a word of caution, withdrawing from your retirement account, whether an IRA or 401(K), could result in huge tax penalties, so do your research first.
When I started my new job last year, I filled out the W4 in a way that allows the most taxes to be withheld from my paycheck. A W4 is the IRS form that tells my employer how much taxes to withhold from my paycheck. Thus, if I claim on my W4 that I am single with no children, my employer will withhold more taxes than if I claim that I am married with a child.
This ensures that I pay enough taxes throughout the year and don’t owe more when I file my tax return in April.
And finally, when I started my new job, I also picked up health insurance for my hubby and myself, starting in March 2016. We were no longer subjected to the health care tax fine for going without any health insurance that directly added to our taxes in 2015. And while my employer pays for my health insurance premium, we pay out of pocket for my hubby’s portion of the premium, which can be declared as an itemized deduction.
Related post: Renewing My Health Insurance
Related post: I Was Pregnant Without Insurance
It’s important to remember that these strategies are not quick fixes. The earlier these strategies are implemented, the better tax position you will be in. While contributing to your IRA can be decided after the end of the year, the other three strategies, contributing to your 401(K), picking single on your W4, and carrying health insurance, have a greater affect when done earlier than later. You also can’t pick up health insurance whenever you want, but you can change your W4 selections and contribute to a retirement account, whenever you want.
The holiday season is upon us, and now it’s time to review my health insurance needs for next year. I am lucky enough to work for an employer that pays for my health insurance, so I only have to pay for my husband’s portion of the spousal premium. I currently pay $316.55 a month for my husband’s portion of the Bronze plan, with a (high) deductible of $12,000.00 between us. Next year’s premiums are rising, so I created a spreadsheet to calculate whether it’s worth it to stay on the Bronze plan or not.
My out of pocket cost of the plan is rising from $316.55 to $347.40 per month. The deductible of that plan is also rising, from $12,000.00 to $12,900.00. My out of pocket cost for the Silver plan, which is the next plan up, that covers both my husband and myself is $725.84 per month, with a deductible of $4,400.00. My cost for the Gold plan is $868.12 per month, with a deductible of $2,600.00. And the Platinum plan, which is the top plan, would cost me $1,168.47 per month, with no deductible.
I also looked at the differences in the types of services that are covered in each plan. I focused on the services that my hubby and I are most likely to use. Specifically, all the plans cover routine checkups, and routine OBGYN visits for me, as well as any prenatal visits (although I am not pregnant at the moment) in full. The differences in the plans are related to maternity, office visits, and emergency room visits. On the Bronze plan, all three services are subject to the deductible. On the Silver and Gold plan, all three services are subject to the deductible as well, which is much lower than the Bronze plan, but once the deductible is met, is then subject to coinsurance. That means that once the deductible is met (either $4,400.00 on the Silver plan or $2,600.00 on the Gold plan), I have to pay a relatively small percentage (the coinsurance rate of 15%) of the remaining balance, up to a maximum. On the Platinum plan, where there is no deductible, I would pay just a copay for the three services, anywhere from $15 to $250, depending on the type of doctor.
Then I calculated how much each insurance plan would cost for the year, both including and excluding the deductible. My out of pocket cost for just the health insurance plan itself, without seeing any doctor, is $4,168.80 ($347.40 X 12) for the Bronze, $8,710.08 ($725.84 X 12) for the Silver, $10,417.44 ($868.12 X 12) for the Gold, and $14,021.64 ($1,168.47 X 12) for the Platinum. Including the full deductible into the annual cost brings the total cost per year to $17,068.80 ($4,168.80 + $12,900.00) for the Bronze, $13,110.08 ($8,710.08 + $4,400.00) for the Silver, and $13,017.44 ($10,417.44 + $2,600.00) for the Gold plan. The cost of the Platinum plan remains the same at $14,021.64 since there is no deductible.
Next I considered how likely it is that we will use the full deductible of the Bronze plan. Barring an unlikely emergency situation where either of us end up in the ER, the most likely reason we would use anywhere near the Bronze deductible is if I we’re to give birth to a child (maternity) during 2017, which is subject to the deductible. Since there is no guarantee that we will have a baby in 2017, I am not willing to spend the money on a higher plan just to get a lower deductible.
Picking a higher plan means that I would definitely spend at least $8,710.08, the cost of the Silver plan, next year. If we do get pregnant, as long as it’s not during the winter, the baby would be born in 2018, at a time when I could change the plan to a lower deductible. And even if I do get pregnant during the winter time, I already get a 50% discount through the financial assistance program that I previously enrolled in at my local hospital. That discount applies to the remaining balance after any adjustments, including insurance adjustments. So if my maternity bill from the hospital is $12,900, and the Bronze plan doesn’t cover any part of it, the hospital will grant me a 50% discount on the bill, reducing it to $6,450.