Q&A: Offsetting home sale taxes

Dear Liz: We recently sold a house and have taxes to pay on the proceeds. I’m wondering if we can take some of the proceeds and put them into 401(k) accounts, and pay taxes on them later?

Answer: You can’t do this directly, since 401(k) contributions are made through payroll deductions. If you haven’t already maxed out your retirement contributions, however, you could increase your contribution rate to offset some of the taxable income you created when you sold the house. Some employers allow you to contribute 100% of your pay, up to the IRS contribution limits. In 2022, the limit is $20,500 for people under 50 and $27,000 for people 50 and older.

You also could contribute $6,000 to an IRA (or $7,000 if you’re 50 and older), but your ability to deduct the contribution depends on your income if you’re covered by a workplace plan such as a 401(k). If you’re married filing jointly and have a workplace plan, your ability to deduct an IRA contribution phases out with modified adjusted gross income of $109,000 to $129,000.

Remember that you can exempt up to $250,000 of home sale profits (or $500,000 for a couple) if you owned and lived in the property as your primary residence for at least two of the last five years. You also may be able to reduce the taxable gain if you kept good records of qualifying home improvements. For more information, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home.

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