Lupe CamargoIt’s fall and back-to-school time. As young adults enter their final years of school and begin to make more independent financial decisions, having a firm grasp of the basics will help them stay on a solid path. Several clients have recently asked for my help in educating their college-age kids about essential money matters like tax terminology. Here are some tax term ABCs to share with your kids (or to use as a personal refresher if you’re a little rusty).

Tax Term ABCs

Adjusted Gross Income vs. Taxable Income

Adjusted gross income (AGI) is your total income before any standard or itemized deductions or credits. Taxable income is what is taxed. It’s an important distinction, since many IRS provisions are based on AGI, not taxable income. Your AGI affects the size of your deductions and your eligibility for some types of retirement plan contributions.

Before-Tax vs. After-Tax

After-tax money is taxable now; before-tax (also called pre-tax) money is taxable later. It’s an important difference to understand as you save for retirement. To reduce your lifetime tax burden and make the most of your earnings, you want to shift taxes to your lower income earning years if possible. This can help you determine whether to fund a Roth (which is done with after-tax funds) or a Traditional IRA (funded with pre-tax funds).

Capital Gains vs. Ordinary Income

Capital gains tax-rates are lower than ordinary income rates; they range from zero to 20 percent. A capital gain occurs when a capital asset is sold, such as stocks, mutual funds or a house. Ordinary income comes from your job, business or retirement fund distributions. If you’re in the 32 percent income tax bracket, your ordinary income would be taxed at 32 percent, whereas a capital gain would be taxed at 15 percent.

Tax-Free vs. Tax-Deferred

Tax-free money is simply that; you never have to pay taxes on this money. Distributions from a Roth (both your contributions and earnings) are one example. Tax-deferred means you don’t have to pay taxes on that income right now, but you will in the future.

You can always reach out to your advisor for additional resources and to learn more about money matters. For now, class is dismissed!