Tax Planning for Beginners

Updated for Tax Year 2019


OVERVIEW

Your tax refund is based on how much tax you pay in excess of the tax you owe. Basic tax planning strategies aimed at reducing the amount of your taxable income may increase the gap and thus your refund. In some cases, these strategies benefit you in other ways, offsetting future costs for health care or providing for retirement. Though some aspects of tax law can be complicated, even a beginner can focus on taxable income reduction.


Planning your deduction method

When completing your tax return, you have a choice between standard or itemized tax deduction methods to determine taxable income. The standard deduction is a dollar amount set by the government that you can claim without accounting for the expenses that typically make up a taxpayer's allowed deductions. Itemized deductions are actual expenditure you make for deductible expenses. Your actual deductible expenditures in a tax year may amount to more than the standard deduction amount. If that's the case, you'll likely pay less tax or get a larger refund using the itemized deduction method. However, the itemized method requires support in the form of receipts and other documents to demonstrate these amounts were actually spent. Consider a filing system to save receipts. Even if you choose to claim the standard deduction, having receipts on file will help you make an informed choice at tax time.

tax tips and tax planning for beginners

Retirement savings strategies

"Savings plans such as qualified individual retirement arrangements save you tax in the current year, investment earnings grow tax-free year to year, and provide income for retirement, when you may be taxed in a lower bracket," says James Windsor, certified public accountant from Ann Arbor, Mich. Many taxpayers turn to retirement plans for both the tax reductions now and income later. With a tax rate of 25 percent, for example, contributing $15,000 to a retirement plan may save you $3,750 on your current tax return. Investment earnings on money in your account are not taxed until withdrawal. Maximizing your annual contributions to retirement accounts may be an effective cornerstone for your basic tax planning strategy.

Other tax-sheltered savings

While the size of allowable contributions to retirement plans is attractive to many taxpayers, there are other savings plans that also defer tax and, in some cases, help you avoid tax altogether.

  • 529 education savings plans—Though these plans are funded by after-tax dollars, qualifying withdrawals are tax-free. You can choose prepaid tuition plans or education savings plans.
  • Health coverage savings plans—These include health savings accounts, medical savings accounts and flexible spending arrangements. Plans are funded by you, your employer or a combination, though in each case, both contributions and withdrawals for qualifying expenses are tax-free.
  • Dependent care savings accounts—These are flexible spending arrangements similar to health FSAs but focused on helping pay for childcare expenses while you’re working and held in a separate fund. Contributions and qualifying withdrawals are tax-free.

Withdrawals from any of these plans that are not made for qualifying expenses may be taxable at your rate at the time of withdrawal.

Using tax credits

Another way to reduce the tax you owe is to use tax credits that apply to your situation. Refundable tax credits not only reduce your tax but can be used to create a surplus, resulting in a refund.

  • Low-income earners may qualify for the earned income tax credit. Eligibility depends on your earnings, filing status and number of dependent children.
  • The child and dependent care credit applies when you must pay for care for children or disabled dependents so that you can work or look for work.
  • You may qualify for the child tax credit of up to $2,000 in 2019 for dependent children under 17 who qualify.
  • Modest income earners below certain income levels may qualify for the retirement savings contributions credit, which is over and above other tax savings earned from contributions to IRAs or other retirement plans.
  • The American Opportunity tax credit can offset some costs of post-secondary education during the first four years of college or university. The maximum credit is $2,500 per qualifying student, and 40 percent of the credit is refundable.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $60$40*
Start for Free

Looking for more information?

* Important Offer Details and Disclosures

TURBOTAX ONLINE/MOBILE

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. $0 federal (for simple tax returns) + $0 state + $0 to file offer only available with TurboTax Free Edition; offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.

  • QuickBooks Self-Employed Offer with TurboTax Self-Employed and TurboTax Live Self-Employed: To receive your complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed through 4/30/21, you must pay for your 2019 TurboTax Self-Employed or TurboTax Live Self-Employed return by 4/15/20 and sign-in and access your QuickBooks Self-Employed account via mobile app or at https://selfemployed.intuit.com/turbotax at least twice by 7/15/20. You will have the option of renewing your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription by 4/30/21 for another year at the then-current subscription rate. You may cancel your subscription at any time from within the QuickBooks Self-Employed billing section. See QuickBooks.com for price comparison. Offer not valid for existing QuickBooks Self-Employed subscribers already on a payment plan.

  • Pays for itself (TurboTax Self-Employed): Estimates based on deductible business expenses calculated at the self-employment tax income rate (15.3%) for tax year 2019. Actual results will vary based on your tax situation.

  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard data rates apply to download and use mobile app.

  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary. The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.

  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $40 Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.

  • TurboTax Help and Support: Access to a TurboTax specialist is included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed and TurboTax Live; not included with Free Edition (but is available as an upgrade). TurboTax specialists are available to provide general customer help and support using the TurboTax product. SmartLook on-screen help is available on a PC, laptop or the TurboTax mobile app. Service, area of expertise, experience levels, wait times, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.

  • Tax Advice, Expert Review and TurboTax Live: Access to tax advice and Expert Review (the ability to have a Tax Expert review and/or sign your tax return) is included with TurboTax Live or as an upgrade from another version, and available through December 31, 2020. These services are provided only by credentialed CPAs, Enrolled Agents (EAs) or tax attorneys. Some tax topics or situations may not be included as part of this service, which shall be determined in the tax expert’s sole discretion. For TurboTax Live, if your return requires a significant level of tax advice or actual preparation, the tax expert may be required to sign as the preparer at which point they will assume primary responsibility for the preparation of your return. Intuit may offer a Full Service product to some customers. For the Full Service product, the tax expert will sign your return as preparer. Administrative services may be provided by assistants to the tax expert. Payment by federal refund is not available when a tax expert signs your return. On-screen help is available on a desktop, laptop or the TurboTax mobile app. Unlimited access to TurboTax Live CPAs and EAs refers to an unlimited quantity of contacts available to each customer, but does not refer to hours of operation or service coverage. Service, area of expertise, experience levels, wait times, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.

  • Smart Insights and My Docs features: Included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed, TurboTax Live or with PLUS benefits and is available through 10/31/2021. Terms and conditions may vary and are subject to change without notice.

  • Tax Return Access: Included with all TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed, TurboTax Live or prior year PLUS benefits customers and access to up to the prior seven years of tax returns we have on file for you is available through 10/31/2021. Also included with TurboTax Free Edition after filing your 2019 tax return. Terms and conditions may vary and are subject to change without notice.

  • Easy Online Amend: Included with TurboTax Deluxe, Premier, Self-Employed, TurboTax Live or with PLUS benefits. Make changes to your 2019 tax return online for up to 3 years after it has been filed and accepted by the IRS through 10/31/2022. Terms and conditions may vary and are subject to change without notice.

  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2018 TurboTax products.

  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.

  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.

  • TurboTax is the #1 rated "easiest to use" and the "tax software with the best advice and options": Based on independent comparison of the best online tax software by TopTenReviews.com from June 12, 2019

  • Get tips from Turbo based on your tax and credit data to help get you to where you want to be: Tax and credit data accessed upon your consent.

  • 1099-MISC Snap and Autofill: Included in TurboTax Self-Employed and TurboTax Live Self-Employed. Available in mobile app only. Covers 1099-MISC within Schedule C. Feature currently available for new TurboTax filers with 1099-MISC income.

  • Year-Round Tax Estimator: Included in TurboTax Self-Employed and TurboTax Live Self-Employed only. This product feature is only available for use until after you finish and file in a self-employed product.

TURBOTAX GUARANTEES

  • 100% Accurate Calculations Guarantee: If you pay an IRS or state penalty or interest because of a TurboTax calculation error, we’ll pay you the penalty and interest.

  • Maximum Refund Guarantee - or Your Money Back: If you get a larger refund or smaller tax due from another tax preparation method, we'll refund the applicable TurboTax federal and/or state purchase price paid. TurboTax Online Free Edition customers are entitled to payment of $30.

  • 100% Accurate Expert Approved Guarantee: If you pay an IRS or state penalty (or interest) because of an error that a TurboTax CPA, EA, or Tax Attorney made while providing topic-specific tax advice, a section review, or acting as a signed preparer for your return, we'll pay you the penalty and interest.

  • Audit Support Guarantee: If you received an audit letter based on your 2019 TurboTax return, we will provide one-on-one support with a tax professional as requested through our Audit Support Center. If we are not able to connect you to one of our tax professionals, we will refund the applicable TurboTax federal and/or state purchase price paid. TurboTax Free Edition customers are entitled to payment of $30. We will not represent you or provide legal advice. Excludes TurboTax Business.

  • TurboTax Free Guarantee: $0 Federal + $0 State + $0 To File offer is available for simple tax returns with TurboTax Free Edition. A simple tax return is Form 1040 only, without schedules 1, 2, or 3. Situations covered include:

    • W-2 income
    • Limited interest and dividend income reported on a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV
    • Claiming the standard deduction
    • Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)
    • Child tax credits

  • Satisfaction Guaranteed:
    • If you use TurboTax Online or Mobile:
      Satisfaction Guaranteed — or you don't pay. You may use TurboTax Online without charge up to the point you decide to print or electronically file your tax return. Printing or electronically filing your return reflects your satisfaction with TurboTax Online, at which time you will be required to pay or register for the product.
    • If you bought or downloaded TurboTax from a retailer:
      Try TurboTax software. If you're not satisfied, return it to Intuit within 60 days of purchase with your dated receipt for a full refund.
    • If you bought or downloaded TurboTax directly from us:
      Try TurboTax software. If you're not satisfied, return it within 60 days of shipment with your dated receipt for a full refund (excluding shipping & handling).

TURBOTAX CD/DOWNLOAD

  • Installation requirements: Product activation required via Internet. Install on up to 5 of your computers. Download option requires free online Intuit account. You must accept the TurboTax License Agreement to use this product. Not for use by paid preparers. Not for use by paid preparers.

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase. Prices subject to change without notice.

  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary. The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.

  • Pay for additional TurboTax services out of your federal refund: A $39.99 Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.

  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.

  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2019 TurboTax products.

  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies; may require a free Intuit online account. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2017 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2017 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.