Maximizing Tax Savings for Full-Time W2 Physicians

By: Andwise Team

Published: Jan 9, 2024

📂 Financial Education

Written for:

✅ Early Career Physicians

✅ Mid Career Physicians

✅ Established Professionals

As a full-time employed W2 physician, navigating the complexities of tax season can be a daunting task. With high incomes and busy schedules, it's crucial to find efficient ways to save on taxes. Please remember that tax planning is a full time around-the-year process and you cannot implement your strategies in the last week of December. Also, the tax code favors businesses and real estate investors. Many of the “famous” people you hear about in media can legally take tax deductions that you cannot if your only source of income is full time clinical work (and you’re paid as a W2 employee). Here are some strategies that can help you minimize your tax burden and maximize your savings.

1. Retirement Plan Contributions

One of the most effective ways for W2 physicians to save on taxes is by contributing to retirement plans. Options like a 401(k) or 403(b) allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars, reducing your taxable income. In 2023, the contribution limit for such plans is $20,500, with an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 for those aged 50 and older.

2. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

If you have a high-deductible health plan, contributing to an HSA can be a tax-efficient move. HSAs offer triple tax benefits: contributions are tax-deductible, the money grows tax-free, and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are also tax-free. For 2023, the contribution limits are $3,650 for individuals and $7,300 for families, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for those 55 and older.

3. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

FSAs are another avenue to set aside pre-tax dollars for healthcare expenses. Unlike HSAs, FSAs are use-it-or-lose-it accounts, meaning you must use the funds within the plan year. However, they can still provide substantial tax savings, especially if you anticipate specific medical expenses.

4. Tax-Loss Harvesting

For physicians with investment portfolios, tax-loss harvesting can be a valuable strategy. This involves selling investments that are at a loss and offsetting capital gains taxes. However, it's essential to be aware of the wash-sale rule and consult with a financial advisor to navigate this strategy effectively.
Tax-loss harvesting is a strategy used by investors to offset capital gains taxes by selling investments that are at a loss. Understanding the limits and rules of tax-loss harvesting is crucial for effective tax management. Here's an overview of the key aspects:

Annual Limits and Rules

  • Offsetting Capital Gains: There is no limit to the amount of capital losses that can be used to offset capital gains. If you have more capital losses than gains, you can use the excess losses to offset gains dollar-for-dollar.

  • $3,000 Deduction Against Ordinary Income: If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can use up to $3,000 of excess loss to offset ordinary income each year. This can apply to wages, interest, and other types of income.

  • Carryover to Future Years: If your net capital loss exceeds the $3,000 limit, you can carry over the remainder to future tax years. There's no expiration for this carryover. For instance, if you have a net capital loss of $10,000, you can deduct $3,000 in the first year and carry forward the remaining $7,000 to future years.


5. Charitable Contributions

Charitable giving not only supports causes you care about but also offers tax deductions. If you itemize deductions, you can deduct charitable contributions to qualified organizations. Remember, the contribution must be made to a 501(c)(3) organization to qualify.

6. Have Your Spouse Qualify For Real Estate Professional Status (REPS) 

The Real Estate Professional Status (REPS) under U.S. tax law offers significant tax benefits for those who qualify. This status is particularly advantageous for individuals who are heavily involved in real estate activities, as it allows for more favorable treatment of rental real estate losses. Here's a detailed look at the benefits and requirements:

Benefits of Real Estate Professional Status

  • Passive Activity Loss Rules: Normally, losses from rental properties are considered "passive activity losses," which can only be deducted against "passive activity gains" like income from other rental properties or businesses in which the taxpayer does not materially participate. However, if you qualify as a real estate professional, these losses can be deducted against non-passive income (such as wages, business income, and investment income), which can significantly reduce your overall tax liability.

  • Avoidance of the $25,000 Limitation: Typically, non-real estate professionals can only deduct up to $25,000 in passive rental real estate losses each year (subject to phase-out based on modified adjusted gross income). As a real estate professional, you are not subject to this limitation.

  • No Passive Loss Carryforwards: Since real estate professionals can offset all their income with rental losses, they generally don't have to carry forward passive losses to future tax years.

  • Depreciation Deductions: Real estate professionals can take full advantage of depreciation deductions, which can be substantial, especially with strategies like cost segregation.

Requirements to Qualify

To be considered a real estate professional for tax purposes, you must meet both of the following criteria:

  • More than Half of Personal Services in Real Property Trades or Businesses: More than half of the personal services you perform in all trades or businesses during the tax year must be performed in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate.

  • Material Participation: You must materially participate in real property trades or businesses for more than 750 hours during the tax year. Material participation means being involved in the operations on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis.

7. Invest in Short Term Rentals

Investing in short-term rentals has become increasingly attractive for physicians, largely due to a certain tax benefit that doesn't require the stringent Real Estate Professional Status (REPS) criteria necessary for long-term rental properties. This opportunity is particularly appealing as it can be leveraged even by those with full-time jobs, including physicians with busy schedules.

The key lies in purchasing and operating rental properties that cater to short stays — typically less than seven days, as per the IRS's guidelines. By meeting specific criteria for material participation, which are detailed on the IRS website, investors in these properties can depreciate the value of the property against their W2 income over a set period.

A notable aspect of this tax benefit, at least until it starts phasing out in 2027, is the option of bonus depreciation. Unlike standard depreciation practices that spread the depreciation over several years, bonus depreciation allows for a substantial portion of this benefit to be claimed in the first year of ownership. This accelerated depreciation can significantly reduce taxable income in the year it's claimed.

However, it's crucial to navigate these waters with professional guidance. Working with an accountant who is well-versed in real estate taxation is essential to ensure compliance with IRS guidelines. They can help clarify the specifics of your situation, ensuring you take full advantage of this tax benefit while adhering to legal requirements.

This tax benefit has opened a new avenue for physicians to diversify their investments and potentially reap significant tax advantages, even amidst their demanding careers. As always, professional advice is key to making the most of these opportunities.

In Conclusion: Remember to Consult a Tax Professional

Lastly, perhaps the most important tip is to consult with a tax professional. Tax laws are complex and constantly changing. A professional can provide personalized advice based on your unique financial situation and help you navigate the nuances of tax planning.

In conclusion, as a full-time employed W2 physician, there are several strategies you can employ to reduce your tax burden. From maximizing retirement contributions to making smart investment decisions, each step can lead to significant savings. Remember, it's crucial to stay informed and seek expert advice to make the most of your hard-earned income.

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