But if there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s when people write to me about things they did last year—buying a home or pulling money from a retirement account, for example—without getting guidance from a tax professional. By the time they seek help, it’s often too late to fix the issue.
You may want to get tax advice before:
Deciding between buying and renting a home, a vehicle, and/or business equipment. The right decision can save you a fortune, and you may not get the tax benefits you expect from buying if you don’t run the numbers first.
Pulling money from retirement plans or IRAs. The penalties can be crippling, so you may want to consult a tax professional before making any moves. A tax pro can also help you figure out if borrowing from a 401(k) or other qualified plan may be a good alternative and what the tax ramifications of your choices will be.
Deciding to day trade. It’s important that you learn what records you must keep as well as the tax pitfalls you could potentially face. You also want to find out if, by following specific procedures, you may get some tax benefits you didn’t expect—like being able to treat your activities as a business.
Using your job-related stock options. You can pay tax on the options when they are issued, even if you don’t exercise them. That provides long-term gain rates when you hold the options for more than a year. Otherwise, you’ll pay taxes at ordinary rates when exercising your options.
Buying or selling any property or major asset. This is especially important if you think you’re going to be able to effect a tax-free exchange. This process is full of pitfalls and can be fraught with errors, so it’s important to seek the help of a professional.
Signing up for any long-term commitment. Read all the documents yourself, in detail, before you sign anything. Then, give them to a good tax or financial professional to read. A professional is likely to be familiar with scams and issues and may be able to give guidance to protect you.
Considering a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages may sound very appealing: Instead of paying the bank, the bank sends you money each month. But there may be pitfalls, and you are limited to the money the bank sends you each month. In a financial emergency, you can’t pull more money out of your equity. If both spouses are not named on the mortgage when the named spouse dies, the lender will kick the surviving spouse out of the house—even if both are on title.
Getting married. There are some serious (and rather unromantic) heart-to-heart conversations you really should have with your future spouse, and you will also want to discuss the tax ramifications with a pro before the big day.
Contemplating divorce. Even when a divorce is friendly, it can still be an awful experience, and it can get worse if you find out that your attorney didn’t take any tax issues into account. You could find yourself stuck with extra taxes or your ex’s tax debt, or you may wind up fighting over claiming your children, year after year.
Life doesn’t need to be stressful. You don’t need to face pitfalls, extra costs, or any unpleasantness—as long as you do some planning before making major moves. Remember: Your tax advisor is available all year round, not just at tax season.
Eva Rosenberg, EA is the publisher of TaxMama.com, where your tax questions are answered. She is the author of several books and ebooks, including Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Eva teaches a tax pro course at IRSExams.com and tax courses you might enjoy at http://www.cpelink.com/teamtaxmama.