You can reach into the past and future to cut your taxes. How? Through the use of tax carryforwards and carrybacks. Here is what you should know about these tax savers.
Some tax deductions have a maximum amount that you can use in any one year. In these situations, the rules generally allow you to apply the unused tax deduction to a past or future tax return. One of the most popular examples of this is the "net operating loss" or NOL. Business owners whose qualified expenses exceed their income are allowed to apply the NOL to taxable income earned in the second prior year, and if there is still loss available, to apply it to last year's income. Any further unapplied NOL can be used to offset future taxable income.
But there are a few twists to the NOL rules. If your NOL is the result of a theft or disaster, you may be able to carry it back three years. An NOL from farming can be carried back five years. And you may opt to apply all your NOL to future years only, which might not be a bad strategy if you expect to be taxed at higher rates in future years.
Net capital losses, such as from the sale of stocks, can be carried forward (but not back) to offset future capital gains and up to $3,000 of ordinary income. You can also carry forward charitable contributions that exceed 50% of taxable income for up to five years.