Seriously, there are still ways to reduce your taxes for 2018

  • A health savings account offers a triple tax benefit: contributions are deductible, investment gains are tax-deferred and distributions used for qualified medical expenses are not counted as part of gross income.
  • As with an HSA, you can fund an individual retirement account for 2018 up until the tax return filing deadline of April 15 this year.
  • If you have any consulting income, run your own business or generate income from a side hustle, you likely can use a simplified employee pension (SEP) or SIMPLE IRA to help fund your retirement and receive a tax deduction for 2018.

It might come as a surprise to you that you can still reduce your taxes for 2018, even though the year has ended. These strategies can help you set aside money for your future and reduce your taxes today. So, let's take a look at three ways you can still reduce your tax burden before that April 15 tax day arrives.

1. Fund an HSA for 2018: Health savings accounts offer some of the best tax benefits available. In fact, you get a triple tax benefit. First, contributions to an HSA are fully deductible from gross income. Additionally, your investment gain inside the HSA is tax-deferred. Lastly, as long as your distributions from an HSA are used for qualifying medical expenses, they are not included in gross income.

Close-up of IRS Form 1040
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In order to be eligible to contribute the full allowable amount for 2018 to an HSA, you need to be covered under a high deductible health plan on the first day of the last-month of your tax year. This is December 1 for most taxpayers. You cannot be enrolled in Medicare or claimed as a dependent, and cannot hold other types of additional health-care coverage options in order to be eligible for an HSA.

If you were eligible for the entire year, individuals can choose to save up to $3,450 in an HSA and a family can contribute up to $6,900 for 2018. Those over age 55 can contribute an additional $1,000, for a total of $4,450 for an individual and up to $7,900 away per family.

In some cases, your employer might have made a contribution to an HSA on your behalf. Therefore, if you are contributing to an HSA, make sure you take into account anything your employer put in on your behalf. HSAs are portable, so you can move the account to another HSA. Furthermore, the money does not go away if you don't use it in the year as is the case with some flexible spending accounts (FSAs). You can fund your HSA for 2018 up until your tax return date of April 15, 2019 and still fully deduct the contribution. So, if you qualify for an HSA for 2018, consider funding your HSA to lower your tax bill and set aside funds for future medical expenses.

2. Fund an IRA for 2018: Similar to HSAs, you can fund an individual retirement account for 2018 up until you file your tax return on April 15. To fund an IRA, you need to be under the age of 70½ and have earnings from employment at least equal to your IRA contribution amount. For 2018, you can fund an IRA with up to $5,500. For people over age 50, you can add an additional contribution of $1,000. Furthermore, if one spouse is working and the other is not, the working spouse can make a spousal contribution to the non-working spouse's IRA. As such, a couple can put away $11,000 a year into traditional IRAs and, if both have reached age 50, they can put away $13,000 for 2018.

Contributions to a traditional IRA could be deductible or non-deductible. The deduction may be limited if you, or your spouse, is an active participant in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). If you have Modified Adjusted Gross Income of $63,000 or less as a single filer, or $101,000 or less as a married filing jointly active participant in a qualified plan, you can deduct up to the full amount for 2018. For single filers, the deduction is phased out from $63,000 to $73,000 and for married filing jointly it is phased out from $101,000 to $121,000.

"In the right situation, SEPs and SIMPLEs can be great funding vehicles for retirement and help you lower your current tax bill."

Over the threshold amount, you cannot deduct the contribution. Lastly, if you are married filing jointly and you are not an active participant, but your spouse is, the phase-out range for the non-active participant is $189,000 to $199,000. So, if you qualify for a deductible IRA contribution for 2018, it is not too late to fund your account a receive a tax deduction.

3. Set up a SEP or SIMPLE for 2018: If you have any consulting income, run your own business or generate income from a side hustle, you likely can use a simplified employee pension (SEP) or SIMPLE IRA to help fund your retirement and receive a tax deduction for 2018. (A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees Individual Retirement Account, commonly known as "SIMPLE IRA," is a type of tax-deferred employer-provided retirement plan that allows employees to set aside money and invest it to grow for retirement.)

SEPs and SIMPLEs are both funded with IRAs and allow small-business owners to save for themselves and other employees. If you have other employees, determining whether to use a SEP or SIMPLE is a much more complex discussion as you will likely need to make contributions on their behalf, as well.

If you are self-employed and the only employee, you can set up a SEP or SIMPLE for 2018 and deduct the contributions you make to the account. You can set up and fund a SIMPLE all the way up to April 15, 2019 for the 2018 tax year. Typically, with a SIMPLE, you will max out contributions for 2018 at around $25,000 or, if you're over age 50, at around $31,000. SIMPLEs are funded with a mix of employer contributions and employee salary deferrals.

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If you had already maxed out your 401(k) plan salary deferral of $18,500, that would limit your ability to save additional funds for 2018 in a SIMPLE. With a SEP IRA, you can still set up and fund a SEP for 2019 and can get up to $55,000 into the account. Additionally, all SEP funding is treated as coming from the "employer" and not as salary deferral, even though you might be the only person in the business. For lower-income earners who didn't max out their 401(k) plan salary deferral, the SIMPLE might actually let them put more money aside. That's because the SEP is capped at 20 percent of the individual's net income.

Using a SEP or a SIMPLE is the most complex of the three strategies discussed. However, in the right situation, SEPs and SIMPLEs can be great funding vehicles for retirement and help you lower your current tax bill.

Before setting up an any of the accounts mentioned, it might make sense to speak with a knowledgeable professional who can look at your tax situation and retirement needs, and the fit of such a retirement account for your situation. All three strategies should be viewed as long-term investment and savings strategies and not just used for a one-year tax deduction.

— by Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group