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How to Avoid Paying Taxes on a Bonus Check


The satisfaction of receiving a year-end bonus may soon be tempered by the realization that income taxes will have to be paid on the extra money. Bonuses are treated as income and thus subject to taxation, but there are ways to manage and reduce the amount of taxes that will be owed. And as is the case with other income from an employer, the employer is required to withhold taxes from a bonus, reducing your take-home pay from the windfall. A financial advisor can potentially help you optimize your tax strategy for a bonus.

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How Are Bonuses Taxed?

All monetary bonuses, whether they are end-of-the-year bonuses or just a monetary benefit for a job well done, are taxed as income but not necessarily at your typical tax rate. The IRS considers a bonus check to be “supplemental wages” so it is generally taxed at a flat 22% tax rate since it is income that is above and beyond your normal salary. Other supplemental wages can include accumulated sick leave, commissions or overtime pay.

There is also an aggregate method for taxing bonus checks if your company regularly pays bonuses alongside your normal compensation. In this scenario, the tax for your bonus would depend on your tax bracket as your “wages plus bonus” will be how your employer calculates the tax on the bonus.

Bonus Tax Strategies

Strategies to manage the taxes you’ll have to pay on a bonus fall into two camps. First, you can reduce your gross income. Second, you can increase the deductions that apply to your income.

Make a Retirement Contribution

One of the most effective ways to reduce taxes on a bonus is to reduce your gross income with a contribution to a tax-deferred retirement account. This could be either a 401(k) or an individual retirement account (IRA). The amount you contribute to the retirement account, subject to limitations, reduces your taxable income so you’ll owe less.

The limitations are different for various types of retirement accounts. They also change from year to year. Note that you also can’t get a deduction for contributions to a Roth IRA.

For 2024, the limits are:

  • 401(k)s, 403(b)s and most 457s: $23,000 ($30,500 for taxpayers ages 50 or older)
  • IRAs: $7,000 ($8,000 for taxpayers ages 50 or older)

For 2023, the limits are:

  • 401(k)s, 403(b)s and most 457s: $22,500 ($30,000 for taxpayers age 50 or older)
  • IRAs: $6,500 ($7,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older)

Contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA)

If you’re covered by a high-deductible health plan, you may be eligible to contribute to a health savings account (HSA). These contributions reduce your gross income by the contributed amount. You can also withdraw from an HSA to pay qualified medical expenses without incurring taxes, which makes this one of the most attractive tax-management strategies.

There are limits on how much you can contribute to your HSA. For 2023, the limit is $3,850 for an individual and $7,750 for a family. In 2024, those limits edge up to $4,150 for individuals and $8,300 for families.

Defer Compensation

You may be able to save on taxes by asking your employer to delay paying the bonus until January. If the bonus would push your income into a higher tax bracket this year and you expect less income next year, this strategy makes considerable sense. Even if you will still be in the same tax bracket, you benefit by delaying the day you have to pay the taxes by the year.

Donate to Charity

How to Avoid Paying Taxes on a Bonus Check

If you itemize your deductions rather than taking the standard deduction, you can contribute to a charity to reduce your taxable income. You may want to consider bunching donations by making two years’ worth of planned donations this year. You can donate up to 50% of your adjusted gross income to a qualifying charity, including nonprofits promoting literacy, education and amateur athletics as well as religious charities.

Pay Medical Expenses

If you itemize deductions and have medical or dental bills that weren’t reimbursed by insurance, you can reduce your taxable income by using the bonus to pay for them. You can only deduct unreimbursed medical and dental expenses if they are at least 7.5% of adjusted gross income.

Request a Non-Financial Bonus

You may be able to reduce taxes on your bonus to zero by asking your employer to make it a non-financial bonus. Examples of non-financial bonuses could include the ability to work from home or work flexible hours. Not all non-financial bonuses are tax-free, however. If you get extra paid vacation time instead of a check, for instance, it can be taxed as a financial bonus.

Supplemental Pay vs. Regular Pay

If your employer delivers the bonus to you as part of your regular paycheck, it will be taxed like regular income. If it’s delivered with a separate check, it’s taxed as supplemental income. The difference is that supplemental income is taxed at a flat 22% while ordinary income is taxed at your regular rate.

It is usually less costly to have the bonus delivered as supplemental income rather than as an amount added to your regular check. You may be able to get your employer to pay you so the bonus is regarded as supplemental income. However, which approach will result in lower taxes depends on your situation.

Bottom Line

How to Avoid Paying Taxes on a Bonus Check

Year-end bonuses are subject to taxation like any income received from an employer. Some strategies can help manage or reduce the taxes owed on a year-end bonus, however. Some of these require donating to charity or making a contribution to a retirement or health savings account. Others, such as deferring compensation, will call for some coordination with your employer.

Tax Tips

  • If you anticipate a bonus, you may want to talk over your options for reducing taxes with a financial advisor. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Be sure you are paying what you owe in federal taxes on your income – and no more. Using SmartAsset’s income tax calculator can help you know for certain that you are paying the correct amount.

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