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    Retirement and the IRS: What seniors need to know at tax time

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    Retirement and the effects of aging come with a lot of changes, but at least one thing remains constant. Every April 15, Uncle Sam wants to make sure Americans pay any taxes they might owe him.

    “Whether you’re retired or not, the IRS is still going to be interested in your income,” said Chris Orestis, president of LifeCare Xchange who is known as the Retirement Genius.

    “That said, though, there are tax rules that are specific to older Americans, so it’s important to be aware of the different ways you might be able to reduce your tax bill that weren’t available to you when you were younger,” he added.

    He said some factors to be mindful of as seniors plan or file taxes include:

    Senior citizens might qualify for a larger standard deduction. For many Americans, including many seniors, there’s no reason to itemize deductions anymore because the standard deduction is so high— $12,200 for a single person and $24,400 for a married couple filing jointly. But people can get an even higher standard deduction if either they or their spouse is 65 or older, and a still higher deduction if either of them is blind. “If you aren’t itemizing, then you want to make sure you’re getting the maximum standard deduction that you are allowed because that’s going to impact how much of your income is taxed,” Orestis says.

    Yes, Social Security benefits may be taxed. The rules for how much — if any — of a Social Security benefit is taxed can be tricky, so recipients want to be extra careful with that, Orestis said. “According to the Social Security Administration, if you’re filing as an individual, and your Social Security benefit plus any other taxable income you have is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may be taxed up to 50 percent of your benefit. If your combined income is more than $34,000 then up to 85 percent of the benefit may be taxable. For married couples filing jointly, if the combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits. If your income is more than $44,000 then up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.”

    People may be able to deduct long-term care insurance premiums. Owners of long-term care insurance policies can take tax deductions on premiums they pay for qualified plans — as well as other reimbursed medical expenses such as Medicare premiums — as long as the premiums are greater than 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income, Orestis says.

    Selling a life insurance policy has advantages. “There can be significant tax benefits for people who sell their life insurance policy through what is called a ‘life settlement,’ ” Orestis said. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the proceeds from a life settlement are fully exempt from federal taxes if the policy owner is terminally or chronically ill. Those who are not terminally or chronically ill do pay capital-gain taxes on the proceeds from the sale, minus the amount in premiums the policyholder paid over the life of the policy.

    Seniors might want to increase contributions to their retirement accounts. Of course, many seniors aren’t adding anything to their IRAs or 401(k)s. Instead, they are regularly withdrawing money to pay for monthly living expenses. But if they’re still working, they can increase their contributions, which can both reduce the tax bill now and give them an even larger nest egg when they do retire, Orestis said. The IRS limits how much people can contribute each year, but that limit increases once people turn 50. For example, for both traditional and Roth IRAs, people younger than 50 can’t contribute more than $6,000 annually, but those 50 and older can contribute up to $7,000.

    “The important thing to remember is that you may have options at tax time that you hadn’t thought about,” Orestis said. “Knowing the tax rules and how they apply to your personal situation, and seeking professional advice, can make a huge difference.”

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