Saturday, January 29, 2011

Low-Tax States Attract Budget-Conscious Americans

Low-Tax States Attract Budget-Conscious Americans
Linda Stern
Saturday, January 29, 2011Share

Bob VanSickle was a lifelong NJ resident, but when he left after 52 years for what he calls "kinder, gentler" New Hampshire, he never looked back.

It wasn't the warm fuzzies that won him over; it was the lower taxes on income, property and purchases.

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"This is great," he said, seven years later. "I'm still paying less now than I was when I left NJ."

VanSickle estimates that he and his wife Anna save as much as $15,000 annually on taxes alone because they live in New Hampshire. "That's a year's tuition for my kid —a lot of disposable income," he said.

"After I tell my old friends in NJ, they are all planning on moving out of the state," he said.

Of course, changing your life just to save on taxes is extreme. But it could happen more and more in the future, as some states aim to fix their budgets with dramatic tax increases, as Illinois did earlier this month.

Many of the states with large population gains in the 2010 Census are well-known low-tax havens, such as Florida, Texas and Nevada.

[See Tax Breaks That Anyone Can Claim]

The tax-motivated move is a common strategy for retirees who abandon high-tax states for low- and no- tax places. Retirees who can stash money into a tax-deferred retirement account during their working years, and then withdraw the money to spend on their new life in a low-tax state, can especially profit.

Big Incomes, Big Numbers

"There can be pretty big dollars involved," said Lisa Osofsky, a CPA and financial adviser who helps clients from NJ, NY and Connecticut figure out their pre- and post- move finances. "A wealthy individual who could be earning several million dollars could save $50,000 or $100,000" by living in a lower-tax state, she said.

A family of four with $150,000 in income would save $13,368 in state and local income taxes if they traded in NY for Florida, according to calculations prepared by Bob Meighan of TurboTax. That doesn't even count additional savings in property taxes, estate taxes, or the cost of winter coats and boots. (Though some of those savings would be shaved when the state taxes were deducted from their federal taxable income.)

[See the Most Overlooked Tax Deductions]

A couple with $85,000 in retirement income and Social Security benefits could squeeze out an extra $112 a month in income tax savings if they moved from California to Michigan, Meighan said. And get a lower cost of living, too.

Sometimes, even in-state moves from one town or county to another can result in sizable savings for homeowners who can face very different property tax levels. Furthermore, wealthy clients will sometimes move to position themselves for more favorable estate tax.

Anyone considering an inter-state move should consider their before and after tax picture, said financial adviser Mark Berg of Timothy Financial Counsel in Wheaton, Illinois. Some organizations post comprehensive state tax information on their web sites so consumers can guesstimate their situation.

Those pre-move calculations can help in the reverse direction, too. Berg was recently able to help a client maximize his tax benefits before an intra-state move. The client was leaving Illinois, a state that does not tax pension distributions, for Montana, which would have added a 7 percent tax to money coming out of the client's individual retirement account. Berg helped the client convert his account to an after-tax Roth IRA before he packed up his bags and headed to Big Sky Country.

[See the States That Tax Retirees the Most]

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