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Tax Season News and Survival Tips

It’s not easy to keep up with complex tax laws that always seem to be changing, much less figure out how they might affect you personally. Even so, it’s important to consider the potential impact of taxes when making many types of financial decisions.

The IRS automatically adjusts the standard deduction and income tax brackets annually for inflation. The rate of inflation rose to 40-year highs in 2022, so the 7% increases for 2023 are the largest since these adjustments began in 1985.¹ The standard deduction is $13,850 for single filers in 2023 (up $900 from 2022) and $27,700 for married joint filers (up $1,800).

The filing deadline for 2023 federal income tax returns is April 15, 2024, (April 17 in Maine and Massachusetts, due to local holidays). Even though the 2024 tax year is well underway, there may still be time to take steps that lower your tax liability for 2023.

Understand “marginal” tax rates

U.S. tax rates increase at progressively higher income levels or brackets. If your taxable income goes up and moves you into a higher bracket, the resulting tax increase might not be as bad as it may appear at first glance. For example, if you and your spouse are filing jointly for 2023 and have a taxable income of $110,000, you are in the 22% tax bracket. However, you will not pay a 22% rate on all your income, only on the amount over $94,300.

Determining the value of certain deductions also depends on where your income falls in the tax brackets. Using the same example, a $10,000 deduction would reduce your income from $110,000 to $100,000 and theoretically reduce your tax liability by $2,200 (22% x $10,000). For a $20,000 deduction, you would have to calculate the amount of the deduction that falls in the 22% and 12% brackets: 22% x $15,700 + 12% x $4,300 ($3,454 + $516 = $3,970).

Although it’s helpful to know your marginal rate, your effective tax rate — the average rate at which your income is taxed (determined by dividing your total taxes by taxable income) — may offer a better way to gauge your tax liability.

Deduct large casualty losses

Wildfires, tornadoes, severe storms, flooding, landslides. The United States was struck by a record number of billion-dollar catastrophes in 2023.² If something you own was damaged or destroyed by a disaster, and your loss exceeds 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) plus $100, you may be able to claim an itemized deduction on your federal income tax return. This typically applies to large losses that are uninsured or subject to a high deductible. For 2018 to 2025, a personal casualty loss is deductible only if it is attributable to a federally declared disaster.

The rules relating to casualty losses can be complicated. If you have suffered a significant loss, it may be worthwhile to consult a tax professional.

Apply for an extension

If you can’t meet the filing deadline for any reason, you can file for and obtain an automatic six-month extension using IRS Form 4868. (Otherwise, if you owe taxes, you might face a failure-to-file penalty.) You must file for an extension by the original due date for your return. For most individuals, that’s April 15, 2024; the deadline for extended returns is October 15, 2024.

An extension to file your tax return does not postpone payment of taxes. Estimate your tax liability and pay the amount you expect to owe by the original due date. Any taxes not paid on time will be subject to interest and possible penalties.

Pay yourself instead

Making deductible contributions for 2023 to a traditional IRA and/or an existing qualified health savings account (HSA) could lower your tax bill and pad your savings. If eligible, you can contribute to your accounts up to the April 15, 2024, tax deadline.

The 2023 IRA contribution limit is $6,500 ($7,000 in 2024). If you’re 50 or older, you can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution. If you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, eligibility to deduct contributions phases out at higher income levels.

If you were enrolled in an HSA-eligible health plan in 2023, you can contribute up to $3,850 for individual coverage or $7,750 for family coverage. (The limits for 2024 are $4,150 and $8,300, respectively.) Each eligible spouse who is 55 or older (but not enrolled in Medicare) can contribute an additional $1,000.

Avoid scams and costly mistakes

Tax season is prime time for identity thieves who may fraudulently file a tax return in your name and claim a refund — which could delay any refund owed to you. Or you might receive threatening phone calls or emails from scammers posing as the IRS and demanding payment. Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with you by email to request personal or financial information, and will never call you about taxes owed without sending a bill in the mail. If you think you may owe taxes, contact the IRS directly at

The IRS has examined less than 0.5% of all individual returns in recent years, but the agency has stated plans to increase audits on high-income taxpayers and large businesses to help recover lost tax revenue. Wherever your income falls, you probably don’t want to call attention to your return.3 Double-check any calculations you do by hand. If you use tax software, scan the entries to make sure the math and other information are accurate. Be sure to enter all income, and use good judgment in taking deductions. Keep all necessary records.

Finally, if you have questions regarding your individual circumstances and/or are not comfortable preparing your own return, consider working with an experienced tax professional.

1) The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2022

2) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2024

3) Internal Revenue Service, 2024


January 24, 2024 Starts the 2023 Federal Tax Filing

IRS suggest steps to make tax filing easier

  • Make sure you have received Form W-2 and other earnings information, such as Form 1099, from employers and payers. The dates for furnishing such information to recipients vary by form, but they are generally not required before February 1, 2024. You may need to allow additional time for mail delivery.
  • Go to to find the federal individual income tax returns, Form 1040 and Form 1040-SR (available for seniors born before January 2, 1959), and their instructions.
  • File electronically and use direct deposit.
  • Check for the latest tax information.

Key dates to keep in mind

  • January 12. IRS Free File opened. IRS Free File Guided Tax Software, available only at, allows participating software companies to accept completed tax returns of any taxpayer or family with an adjusted gross income of $79,000 or less in 2023 and hold them until they can be electronically filed with the IRS starting January 29. Beginning January 29, Free File Fillable forms will be available to taxpayers of any income level to fill out and e-file themselves at no cost.
  • January 29. IRS begins accepting and processing individual tax returns.
  • April 15. Deadline for filing 2023 tax returns (or requesting an extension) for most taxpayers.
  • April 17. Deadline for taxpayers living in Maine or Massachusetts.
  • October 15. Deadline to file for those who requested an extension on their 2023 tax returns.

Tax refunds

The IRS encourages taxpayers seeking a tax refund to file their tax return as soon as possible. The IRS expects to issue most tax refunds within 21 days of their receiving a tax return if the return is filed electronically, the tax refund is delivered through direct deposit, and there are no issues with the tax return. To avoid delays in processing, the IRS encourages people to avoid  paper tax returns whenever possible.


IRS Releases Standard Mileage Rates for 2024

Due to recent increases in the price of fuel, the IRS has increased the optional standard mileage rates for computing the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business purposes for 2024. However, the standard mileage rates for medical and moving expense purposes are reduced for 2024. The standard mileage rate for computing the deductible costs of operating an automobile for charitable purposes is set by statute and remains unchanged.

For 2024, the standard mileage rates are as follows:

  • Business use of auto: 67 cents per mile (up from 65.5 cents for 2023) may be deducted if an auto is used for business purposes. If you are an employee, your employer can reimburse you for your business travel expenses using the standard mileage rate. However, if you are an employee and your employer does not reimburse you for your business travel expenses, you cannot currently deduct your unreimbursed travel expenses as miscellaneous itemized deductions.
  • Charitable use of auto: 14 cents per mile (the same as for 2023) may be deducted if an auto is used to provide services to a charitable organization if you itemize deductions on your income tax return. Your charitable deduction may be limited to certain percentages of your adjusted gross income, depending on the type of charity.
  • Medical use of auto: 21 cents per mile (down from 22 cents for 2023) may be deducted if an auto is used to obtain medical care (or for other deductible medical reasons) if you itemize deductions on your income tax return. You can deduct only the part of your medical and dental expenses that exceeds 7.5% of the amount of your adjusted gross income.
  • Moving expense use of auto: 21 cents per mile (down from 22 cents for 2023) may be deducted if an auto is used by a member of the Armed Forces on active duty to move, pursuant to a military order, to a permanent change of station (unless such expenses are reimbursed). The deduction for moving expenses is not currently available for other taxpayers.

2024 Retirement Plan Limits

Some IRA and retirement plan limits are indexed for inflation each year. Several of these key numbers have increased once again for 2024.

How much can you save in an IRA?

The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2024 will be $7,000 (or 100% of your earned income, if less), up from $6,500 in 2023. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2024, but your total contributions cannot exceed these annual limits.

Can you deduct your traditional IRA contributions?

If you (or if you’re married, both you and your spouse) are not covered by a work-based retirement plan, your contributions to a traditional IRA are generally fully tax deductible.

If you’re married, filing jointly, and you’re not covered by an employer plan, but your spouse is, you may generally claim a full deduction if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $230,000 or less (up from $218,000 or less in 2023). Your deduction is limited if your MAGI is between $230,000 and $240,000 (up from $218,000 and $228,000 in 2023) and eliminated if your MAGI is $240,000 or more (up from $228,000 in 2023).

For those who are covered by an employer plan, deductibility depends on income and filing status. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution in 2024 if your MAGI is $77,000 or less (up from $73,000 in 2023). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct your contribution if your MAGI is $123,000 or less (up from $116,000 in 2023). For taxpayers earning more than these thresholds, the following phaseout limits apply.

If your 2024 federal income tax      filing status is:

Your  IRA deduction is limited if your MAGI is between:

Your deduction is eliminated if your MAGI is:

Single or head of household

$77,000 and $87,000

$87,000 or more

Married filing jointly or qualifying  widow(er)

$123,000 and $143,000 (combined)

$143,000 or more      (combined)

Married filing separately

$0  and $10,000

$10,000 or more

Can you contribute to a Roth IRA?

The income limits for determining whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA will also increase in 2024. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $7,000  ($8,000 if you are age 50 or older) to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is $146,000 or less (up from $138,000 in 2023). And if you’re     married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution if your MAGI is $230,000 or less (up from $218,000 in 2023). For taxpayers earning more than these thresholds, the following phaseout limits apply.

If your 2024 federal income tax  filing status is:

Your Roth IRA contribution is limited if your MAGI is between:

You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is:

Single or head of household

$146,000 and $161,000

$161,000 or more

Married filing jointly or qualifying      widow(er)

$230,000 and $240,000      (combined)

$240,000 or more (combined)

Married filing separately

More than $0 but less than $10,000

$10,000 or more

How much can you save in a work-based plan?

If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you may be pleased to learn that you can save even more in 2024. The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective  deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan will increase to  $23,000 in 2024 (up from $22,500 in 2023). This limit also applies to 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as the Federal Thrift  Savings Plan. If you’re age 50 or older,  you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $7,500 to these plans in 2024 (unchanged from 2023). [Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.]

The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE  401(k) will increase to $16,000 in 2024 (up from $15,500 in 2023), and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains $3,500. (Note that in 2024, new rules take effect that permit certain small employers to allow additional contributions.)

Plan type:

2024 deferral      limit:

Catch-up limit:

401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b),  Federal Thrift Savings Plan



SIMPLE  plans



Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.

If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($23,000 in 2024 plus  any applicable catch-up contributions). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and SIMPLE plans are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section  457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan, you can save the full amount in each plan — a total of $46,000 in 2024 (plus any catch-up contributions).

The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan [for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan]  in 2024 is $69,000 (up from $66,000 in 2023) plus age 50 or older catch-up contributions. This includes both your contributions and your employer’s contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.

Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2024 is $345,000 (up from $330,000 in 2023), and the dollar threshold for determining     highly compensated employees (when 2024 is the look-back year) increases to  $155,000 (up from $150,000 when 2023 is the look-back year).


Are you optimistic about the 2024 Economic Outlook?

Despite high interest rates and unsettling geopolitical conflict, the U.S. economy outperformed the expectations of most economists in 2023.1 Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (Real GDP) accelerated to an annualized rate of 5.2% in the third quarter, after growing 2.1% in Q2 and 2.2% in Q1. Inflation, as measured by the 12-month change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE), was 3.0% in October 2023, after beginning the year at 5.5%.2 The labor market stayed strong in 2023, though it has cooled off a bit. The unemployment rate edged up from 3.4% in January to 3.9% in October, but is still quite low by historical standards.3

That is all good news considering that a majority of economists polled in January 2023 believed the United States would enter a recession by the end of the year.4 Whether you are an investor, a business owner, or an employee thinking about your career prospects, you may be more interested in what lies ahead for the economy in 2024. Economic projections are essentially educated guesses. Economists in the public and private sectors are tasked with trying to predict the future based on a wide range of indicators, potential risks, and their overall impressions of market conditions. And so far, forecasts for 2024 seem to suggest the economy is kicking off the new year in a more stable position.5

Fed policies and official forecasts

Since March 2022, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the U.S. Federal Reserve has raised the benchmark federal funds rate aggressively in an effort to control inflation, which had climbed to its highest levels in 40 years.6–7 Raising interest rates is meant to slow economic activity by making it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow money, which discourages spending.

In November 2023, the Fed paused its rate hikes for the second meeting in a row, leaving the federal funds rate in a range of 5.25% to 5.5%, a 22-year high.8

Economic projections released at the FOMC’s September meeting indicated that slower GDP growth is expected, with a median projection of 1.5% in 2024. This was an improvement from 1.1% in the previous forecast. The committee expected PCE inflation to continue declining and end the year at 2.5%, which would still be higher than the Fed’s 2.0% target, and that the unemployment rate would tick up to 4.1% (based on median projections).9

Polling the pros

In October 2023, The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey found that a recession is no longer the consensus view of 65 top business and academic economists polled by the publication on a quarterly basis. On average, the group expects real GDP growth will slow to 1.0%, the unemployment rate will rise slightly to around 4.0%, and inflation (measured by the consumer price index) will fall to 2.4% by the end of 2024.10

Nearly 60% of the economists believed the Fed was finished hiking interest rates, and roughly half thought that rate cuts would begin in the second quarter of 2024, in response to signs of weakening growth.11

At the same time, some economists were still not convinced that the U.S. economy is out of the woods. As recently as November 2023, the Conference Board predicted that a very short and shallow recession will begin early in 2024.12

Global growth trends

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s September forecast, the global economy is expected to grow 3.0% in 2023 before slowing to 2.7% in 2024. In China, the growth rate is forecast to weaken from 5.1% in 2023 to 4.6%, due to its struggling property market and reduced domestic demand. Growth in the Euro area is expected to improve from 0.6% in 2023 to 1.1% in 2024. Inflation is expected to decline gradually, but to remain above central bank objectives in most economies.13

The problem with projections

Forecasts such as these may be helpful in making some kinds of financial decisions, but it’s also important to consider their limitations and remember that it’s not unusual for economists to change their minds. Recent years have shown how difficult it can be for forecasters to account for the impact of unforeseen economic disruption. Wild cards that could test economists in 2024 include losses from severe weather, fluctuations in oil prices, political conflict in the United States, and expansion of the war in Israel, which could harm an already fragile global economy.

In fact, Fed Chair Jerome Powell called on Fed forecasters to remain flexible in his November 2023 press conference. “Of course, even with state-of-the-art models and even in relatively calm times, the economy frequently surprises us.” He continued, “Our economy is flexible and dynamic, and subject at times to unpredictable shocks, such as a global financial crisis or a pandemic. At those times, forecasters have to think outside the models.”14

The financial markets could continue to react — and occasionally overreact — to economic news and policies announced by the Federal Reserve. But that doesn’t mean you should do the same. As always, it’s important to maintain a long-term perspective and invest strategically based on your financial goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.

Forecasts are based on current conditions, are subject to change, and may not happen. All investments are subject to market fluctuation, risk, and loss of principal. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost.

1, 4–5, 10–11) The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, 2022–2023

2, 7) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2023

3) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023

6, 8–9) Federal Reserve, 2023

12) The Conference Board, 2023

13) Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2023

14), November 8, 2023


2023 Charitable Giving

There is still time in 2023 for year-end planning. Your planning may include charitable giving. The tax benefits associated with charitable giving could potentially enhance your ability to give and should be considered as part of your year-end tax planning.

There may be tax benefits for making charitable gifts

If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct your gifts to qualified charities. This may also help increase your gift.

Example: Assume you want to make a charitable gift of $1,000. One way to potentially enhance the  gift is to increase it by the amount of any income taxes you save with the charitable deduction for the gift. At a 24% tax rate, you might be able to give $1,316 to charity [$1,000 ÷ (1 – 24%) = $1,316; $1,316 x 24% = $316 taxes saved]. On the other hand, at a 32% tax rate, you might be able to give $1,471 to charity [$1,000 ÷ (1 – 32%) = $1,471; $1,471 x 32% = $471 taxes saved].

Tax benefits may be limited to certain percentages of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Your deduction for gifts to charity is limited to 50% (currently increased to 60% for cash contributions to public charities), 30%, or 20% of your AGI, depending on the type of property you give and the type of organization to which you contribute. Charitable deductions that exceed the AGI limits may generally be carried over and deducted over the next five years, subject to the income percentage limits in those years.

Make sure to retain proper substantiation of your charitable contributions. To claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of cash, a check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a record of such contributions through a bank record (such as a cancelled check, a bank or credit union statement, or a credit-card statement) or a written communication (such as a receipt or letter) from the charity showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. If you claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of $250 or more, you must substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity. If you make any noncash contributions, there are additional requirements.

Year-end tax planning

When making charitable gifts at the end of the year, you should consider them as part of your year-end tax planning. Typically, you have a certain amount of control over the timing of income and expenses. You generally want to time your recognition of income so that it will be taxed at the lowest rate possible, and time your deductible expenses so they can be claimed in years when you are in a higher tax bracket.

For example, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket next year, it may make sense to wait and make the charitable contribution in January so that you can take the deduction next year when the deduction results in a greater tax benefit. Or you might shift the charitable contribution, along with other deductions, into a year when your itemized deductions would be greater than the standard deduction amount. And if the income percentage limits above are a concern in one year, you might consider ways to shift income into that year or shift deductions out of that year, so that a larger charitable deduction is available for that year. A tax professional can help you evaluate your individual tax situation.

There are other methods of making charitable gifts. These generally are subject to additional documentation and other complexities.

Using appreciated securities that have been held for more than year allows the appreciation (gains) to be included in the amount of the contribution without paying tax on the gains.

Making Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) is another technique. If you or your spouse are over 70 ½ the first $100,000 of each your required minimum distributions (RMD) will reduce the taxable amount of  you RMD.

When making charitable contributions, be sure to deal with recognized charities and be wary of charities with names that sound like reputable charitable organizations. It is common for scam artists to impersonate reputable charities using bogus websites as well as misleading email, phone, social media, and in-person solicitations. Check out the charity on the IRS website,, using the Tax-Exempt Organization Search tool. And remember, don’t send cash; contribute by check or credit card.


How long can Consumers Keep Carrying the Economy?

Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), so it plays an outsized role in driving economic growth or slowing it down.1 For the last 18 months, U.S. consumers have kept the economy strong despite high inflation and rising interest rates. There is much discussion as to whether consumer spending will continue into 2024.

The Federal Reserve recently did not adjust interest rates. Raising interest rates has the same impact as increasing consumer spending. Both the level of consumer spending and increased interest rates help combat inflation. The Fed’s actions regarding interest rates try to balance numerous factors including consumer spending and employment. A reversal of spending and interest rates could lead to a recession

Measuring spending and inflation

The standard measure of consumer spending is personal consumption expenditures (PCE), released each month by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Economists look at the monthly change in PCE  for the short-term trend and the year-over-year change for the longer-term trend.

September PCE increased 0.7% over August, a strong monthly growth rate and up from 0.4% in August over July. The September increase was 0.4% measured in “real” inflation-adjusted dollars, which indicates that consumers were spending more than the rate of inflation. The annual change in PCE was 5.9%, well above the 3.4% annual change in the PCE price index, which is the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation. (The Fed’s target for PCE inflation is 2%.)2–3

The pandemic effect

The current consumer spending story began with the pandemic recession, when a broad range of business activity stopped, and consumers received large government stimulus packages with little to spend it on. In April 2020, the personal saving rate — the percentage of personal income  that remains after taxes and spending — spiked to a record 32%, almost double the previous high. It declined as businesses reopened but remained above pre-pandemic levels until late 2021, when stimulus had ended, and high inflation made spending more expensive. The September 2023 saving rate was just 3.4%, well below the 6.5% average before the pandemic.4 While a low saving rate could be cause for concern in the long term, it indicates that consumers are willing to spend their income despite higher prices.

Why are consumers spending instead of saving?

Multiple explanations have been offered for this high-spending/low-saving pattern. Some lower-income consumers may be spending a larger percentage of their income because they must — they are spending more for basic needs due to high inflation. People with more disposable income might still be responding to pent-up demand for goods and services that were not available during the pandemic. And, after the tragedies and disruptions of the pandemic, some consumers may prefer to spend now and worry less about the future. The expensive housing market could be adding to this trend by making a typical saving goal seem unattainable to younger consumers.5

On a macro level, however, consumers may be spending instead of saving because they still have substantial savings. Although it was thought that pandemic-era savings were nearly exhausted, revised government data suggests there may be $1 trillion to $1.8 trillion in so-called “excess savings” still available. About half of this is likely held by households in the top 10% income bracket, but that still leaves a large savings buffer that could continue to drive middle-class spending for some time.6

The recently released Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances revealed a similar story. The average inflation-adjusted median net worth of American families jumped by a record 37% from 2019 to 2022 — more than double the previous highest increase in the Fed survey, which is released every three years. Every demographic group saw substantial increases, but the largest by far was for consumers under age 35, whose net worth increased 143%. Because this survey only went through 2022, it does not capture the effects of continuing inflation in 2023.7

Wages and inflation

While pandemic-era savings may support consumer spending well into 2024, only wages can maintain strong spending for the long term. The question is whether wages will keep up with inflation without rising so quickly that they drive inflation even higher. For the 12-month period ending September 2023, average hourly earnings increased 4.2%. This was above the 3.4% PCE inflation rate over the same period, but down from the 5.1% pace of wage increases a year earlier.8 The fact that wage growth is keeping up with inflation while also slowing down bodes well for the goal of taming inflation with continued consumer spending.

Holiday spending

The winter holiday season, officially defined as November and December, accounts for about 20% of retail spending for the year, and is even more important for some retailers. An annual survey by the National Retail Federation found that consumers plan to spend an average of $875 this year on gifts, decorations, holiday meals, and other seasonal items. This is up from $833 in 2022 and slightly above the five-year average.9  Two broader surveys have found declines in consumer confidence in recent months, but it remains to be seen whether this leads to a decline in spending.10-11 While the winter holidays are not a “make or break” situation for the U.S. economy, this year’s holiday spending may provide clues to consumer behavior in the new year.

1–2, 4) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2023

3, 7) Federal Reserve, 2023

5) The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2023

6) Bloomberg, October 10, 2023

8) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023

9) National Retail Federation, 2023

10) The Conference Board, September 26, 2023

11) University of Michigan, October 27, 2023


2023 Year-End Tax Tips to Consider

This is a good time to review your tax situation for 2023. Allow enough time to complete the changes before year-end. Check with your custodian for the deadlines for completing  by December 31, 2023.  Following are some actions to consider before the end of the year. Many of these items will depend on your expected tax bracket in 2023 compared to 2024.

1. Defer income to next year

Consider opportunities to defer income to 2024, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.

2. Accelerate deductions

Consider opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as qualifying interest, state taxes, and medical expenses before the end of the year rather early in 2024. Alternating, payments in 2014 may result in a benefit by exceeding the standard deduction.  

3. Make deductible charitable contributions

If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct charitable contributions, but the deduction is limited to 50% (currently increased to 60% for cash contributions to public charities), 30%, or 20% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), depending on the type of property you give and the type of organization to which you contribute. (Excess amounts can be carried over for up to five years.)

There may be an advantage if you contribute appreciated securities. The gain on the securities will not be taxed if you held the security for more than a year.

For those 701/2 or older it may be beneficial to use direct payments using your required minimum distributions (Qualified Charitable Distributions.)  To qualify for this strategy, it is important to meet the  IRS requirement.  

4. Increase withholding to cover a tax shortfall

If you will owe federal income tax for the year, consider increasing your withholding on Form W-4 for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. Time may be limited for employees to request a Form W-4 change and for their employers to implement it in time for 2023. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly throughout the year instead of when the dollars are taken from your paycheck. This strategy can be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments.

You can also have tax withheld from distributions from some financial accounts.

5. Save more for retirement

Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2023 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so. For 2023, you can contribute up to $22,500 to a 401(k) plan ($30,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $6,500 to traditional and Roth IRAs combined ($7,500 if you’re age 50 or older).* The window to make 2023 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you have until April 15, 2024, to make 2023 IRA contributions.

*Roth contributions are not deductible, but Roth qualified distributions are not taxable.

6. Take required minimum distributions

If you are age 73 or older, you generally must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (special rules apply if you’re still working and participating in your employer’s retirement plan). You have to make the withdrawals by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 25% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required (10% if corrected in a timely manner).

7.  Weigh year-end investment moves

You should not let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.


Rising Oil Prices Could Be a Threat to the Economy

Oil prices have increased more than 30% since late June, driving up transportation costs for consumers and businesses and putting financial markets on edge. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark for oil prices, was $93 per barre September 27, the highest level since August 2022. Brent crude (the global oil benchmark) rose above $96.1

Gasoline prices have followed suit. On September 27, the national average price for a gallon of unleaded gas was $3.83, up from $3.75 a year earlier. The price in California, the most expensive state for gasoline, averaged $5.89 per gallon.2

Market dynamics have impacted fuel prices in recent months. This adds concerns about broader inflation and the nation’s economic prospects.

Tight oil supplies

Oil prices are sensitive to shifts in the delicate balance between supply and demand in the global market. Much of the third quarter’s increase has been attributed to a combination of record-high global demand and coordinated supply cuts.3 On September 5, Saudi Arabia and Russia announced the extension of voluntary production cuts (1.3 million barrels per day combined) through the end of 2023. These cuts, which began in June, are on top of cuts that were previously put in place through 2024 by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with Russia and other allied oil producers (dubbed OPEC+). In total, supply cuts are expected to reduce global crude inventories by 3.3 million barrels per day in Q4 2023.4

OPEC is a coalition of 13 member countries, led by Saudi Arabia, which regulate their output to support oil prices. OPEC joined forces with the 10 OPEC+ countries in 2016 so they would have more power to influence prices. The two groups produced about 59% of the world’s supply of crude in 2022.5

Even so, OPEC does not have the iron grip on the oil market that it once wielded. Due to advances in shale drilling methods, U.S. oil production has more than doubled since 2011. The United States has been the top oil-producing nation since 2018 and was responsible for 20% of the world’s total in 2022. Saudi Arabia and Russia followed behind with 12% and 11%, respectively.6

Pain at the pump

Crude accounted for 57% of the nationwide cost of a gallon of gas in 2022, with the remainder reflecting refining costs, marketing and distribution, and taxes. Moreover, market conditions and gas prices vary widely by state and region.7

Gas prices also respond to seasonal demand shifts. For example, they tend to climb in the summer, when more drivers hit the road for vacations, then decline in the fall. In addition to the rising cost of crude, extreme heat in 2023 forced refineries in the Southeast to operate below capacity for safety reasons, pushing up prices even more than would be typical in the summer.8

On the bright side, the national average gas price is still below the record of $5.02 set in June 2022, when global oil costs spiked in the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And most states switch to a cheaper winter blend by October, which could deliver some price relief.9

Will U.S. drilling fill the gap?

Gasoline and heating oil (both derived from crude) are essential expenses for many households, which may leave them with less money to spend on other goods and services. A broad pullback in consumer spending — which accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) — could take a significant toll on growth.10

Extended periods of high oil prices have been blamed for bringing on recessions in the past, and low prices have sometimes provided an economic boost. But this relationship has become more complex as the United States has expanded its presence in the global oil market. The United States has been called a swing producer because production levels often fluctuate in response to market prices. High oil prices tend to benefit producers by pumping up company profits, and they incentivize more hiring and drilling. A surge in drilling could have a positive impact on GDP that offsets some of the negative forces.

But more U.S. production is not guaranteed. With oil prices sitting above $100 per barrel for much of 2022, companies were reluctant to invest in drilling.11 In recent weeks, U.S. producers have reportedly added drilling rigs in the shale oil patch at the fastest rate since November of 2022, but it’s still unknown whether U.S. production will increase enough to lower prices.12

Inflation and the Fed

When fuel costs are high, businesses must decide whether to absorb them — lowering profit margins — or pass them on to consumers, which could reignite inflation across the economy.

Measured by the consumer price index (CPI), inflation increased 0.6% in August and was up 3.7% over the previous year. A 10.6% surge in gasoline prices was responsible for more than half of that monthly increase.13

The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates aggressively to control inflation by slowing economic activity. Despite the rate hikes, the economy has remained surprisingly strong, so higher fuel costs may help the Fed’s efforts to slow the pace. Even so, the inflationary effects associated with rising oil prices appear to be another risk to the economic outlook that Fed policymakers must consider as they decide the future path of interest rates.

1) The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2023

2, 9) American Automobile Association, 2023

3, 12) The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2023

4) Bloomberg, September 12, 2023

5–7) U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2023

8) Associated Press, August 2, 2023

10) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2023

11) The Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2022

13) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023


What Happens if There is a Government Shutdown?

There are only a few days till the U.S. government may shutdown. It is possible that a last-minute agreement could avoid a shutdown. Following is an abbreviated summary of the federal funding process, the current situation in Congress, and the potential consequences of a failure to fund government operations.

Twelve appropriations bills

The federal fiscal year begins on October 1, and under normal procedures 12 appropriations bills for various government sectors should be passed by that date to fund activities ranging from defense and national park operations to food safety and salaries for federal employees.

These appropriations are considered discretionary spending, meaning that Congress has flexibility in setting the amounts. Although discretionary spending is an ongoing source of conflict, it accounted for only 27% of federal spending in FY 2023, and almost half of that was for defense, which is typically less of a point of conflict. Mandatory spending (including Social Security and Medicare), which is required by law, accounted for about 63%, and interest on the federal debt accounted for 10%.1

It is obvious that it would be helpful for federal agencies to know their operating budgets in advance of the fiscal year, but all 12 appropriations bills have not been passed before October 1 since FY 1997. In 11 of the last 13 years, lawmakers have not passed a single spending bill in time.2 That is the situation as of September 27 this year. (One bill, to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been passed by the House but not the Senate.)3

Continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills

To delay further budget negotiations, Congress typically passes a continuing resolution, which extends federal spending to a specific date, generally at or based on the same level as the previous year. These bills are essentially placeholders that keep the government open until full-year spending legislation is enacted. Since 1998, it has taken an average of almost four months after the beginning of the fiscal year for that year’s final spending bill to become law.4

Even with the extension provided by continuing resolutions, Congress seldom passes the 12 appropriations bills. Instead, they are often combined into massive omnibus spending bills that may include other provisions that do not affect funding. For example, the SECURE 2.0 Act, which fundamentally changed the retirement savings rules, was included in the omnibus spending bill for FY 2023, passed in late December 2023, almost three months into the fiscal year.

Current Congressional situation

The U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives sole power to initiate revenue bills, so the House typically passes funding legislation and sends it to the Senate. There are often conflicts between the two bodies, especially when they are controlled by different parties, as they are now. These conflicts are typically settled through negotiations after a continuing resolution extends the budget process.

The Senate acted first this year, releasing bipartisan legislation on September 26 that would maintain current funding through November 17 and provide additional funding for disaster relief and the war in Ukraine. Although this is likely to pass the Senate later in the week, it was unclear how the House would react to the legislation.5

Late on September 26, the House cleared four appropriation bills for debate (Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, and State Department). It is unknown whether these bills will pass the House, and if they do, it will be too late to negotiate the provisions with the Senate. A proposed continuing resolution that would extend government funding and include new provisions for border security had not been cleared for debate as of the afternoon of September 27.6

Effects of a shutdown

The effects of a government shutdown depend on its length, and fortunately, most are short. There have been 20 shutdowns since the current budget process began in the mid-1970s, with an average length of eight days. The longest by far was the most recent shutdown, which lasted 35 days in December 2018 and January 2019, and demonstrates some potential consequences of an extended closure.7 However, in 2018-19, five of the 12 spending bills had already passed before the shutdown — including large agencies like Defense, Education, and Health & Human Services — which helped limit the damage. The current impasse, with no appropriations passed, could lead to an even more painful situation.8

Some things will not be affected: The mail will be delivered. Social Security checks will be mailed. Interest on U.S. Treasury bonds will be paid.9 However, some programs will stop immediately, including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which helps to provide food for about 7 million low-income mothers and children.10

Federal workers will not be paid. Workers considered “essential” will be required to work without pay, while others will be furloughed. Lost wages will be reimbursed after funding is approved, but this does not help lower-paid employees who may be living paycheck to paycheck.11 In an extended shutdown, the greatest hardship would fall on lower-paid essential workers, which would include many military families. Furloughed workers would struggle as well, but they might look for other jobs, and in many states would be able to apply for unemployment benefits.12 (Members of Congress, who are paid out of a permanent appropriation that does need renewal, would continue to be paid.)13

Air travel could be affected. In 2019, absenteeism more than tripled among Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers, resulting in long lines, delays, and gate closures at some airports. According to the TSA,  many workers took time off for financial reasons.14 Air traffic controllers, who are better paid, remained on the job without pay and without normal support staff. However, on January 25, 2019, an increase in absences by controllers temporarily shut down New York’s La Guardia airport and led to substantial delays at airports in Newark, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. This may have been an impetus to reopen the government later that day.15

Unlike federal employees, workers for government contractors are not guaranteed to be paid, and contractors often work side-by-side with federal employees in government agencies. In 2019, it was estimated that 1.2 million contract employees faced lost or delayed revenue of more than $200 million per day.16 A more widespread shutdown would put even more workers at risk.

While essential workers will maintain some federal services, furloughed workers would leave significant gaps. At this time, it’s unknown exactly how each agency will respond to a shutdown. In 2019, some national parks used alternate funding to maintain limited access, which caused problems with trash and vandalism and was deemed illegal by the Government Accounting Office. This year, all parks might be closed during an extended shutdown.17 Many other federal services may be delayed or suspended, ranging from food inspections to small business loans and economic reports.18 Delays in economic statistics could make it more difficult for the Federal Reserve to judge appropriate policy.19

Although a shutdown would cause temporary hardship for workers and the citizens they serve, the long-term effect on the economy would be relatively benign, because lost payments are generally made up after spending is authorized. A shutdown might decrease gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2023, but if the shutdown ends by the end of the year, GDP for the first quarter of 2024 would theoretically be increased. Even if delayed spending is recovered, however, lost productivity by furloughed workers will not be regained. And an extended shutdown could harm consumer and investor sentiment.20

Surprisingly, previous shutdowns generally have not hurt the broad stock market, other than short-term reactions. But the current market situation is delicate to begin with, and it is impossible to predict future market direction.21

For now, it’s wise to maintain a steady course in your own finances. In the event of a shutdown, be sure to check the status of federal agencies and services that may affect you directly.

All investments are subject to market fluctuation, risk, and loss of principal. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest. The principal value of Treasury securities fluctuates with market conditions. If not held to maturity, they could be worth more or less than the original amount paid. Projections are based on current conditions, subject to change, and may not happen.

1) Congressional Budget Office, May 2023

2, 4, 8) Pew Research Center, September 13, 2023

3)  Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, September 27, 2023

5, 6, 9, 18, 19) The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2023

7, 11)  CNN, September 21, 2023

10) MarketWatch, September 26, 2023

12), September 25, 2023 (American Federation of Government Employees)

13) CBS News, September 25, 2023

14) Associated Press, January 21, 2019

15) The Washington Post, January 25, 2019

16) Bloomberg, January 17, 2019

17) Bloomberg Government, September 12, 2023

20) Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2023

21) USA Today, September 26, 2023