It may seem too early to think about taxes, but you can possibly save hundreds of dollars or more by getting your deductible ducks in a row before the year ends. As with most deductions, income restrictions may apply so check with the Internal Revenue Service to get details. For starters, see if you can take advantage of these five tax-saving moves:
1. Donate. Spend a Saturday morning going through stuff you don’t want. “Take those clothes and items [in good, used condition] to your local charitable organization right away,” says Sally Herigstad, a certified public accountant and author of Help! I Can’t Pay My Bills. “Be sure to get a receipt to verify the donation was made.” Popular tax-preparation software packages have charitable donation calculators built in, making this one of the easiest deductions you may be able to take.
2. Pay deductible expenses early. Make your January house payment in December so the interest deduction is included in your 2008 tax return. And, in December, pay your property tax that is due in January (for the same reason).
3. Tax-loss harvesting. In light of this year’s stock market struggles, you may want to consider taking some of the losers and selling them to realize the loss for tax purposes. Check with your tax advisor regarding your situation.
4. Put money toward retirement. If you haven’t started contributing to a 401(k) or similar retirement account, now’s the time to begin. Your 401(k) contributions are not deductible, but the money you put into them comes from pretax dollars. So, in effect, you’re reducing your taxable income. If you have an IRA, don’t forget that contributions made to Individual Retirement Accounts may be tax deductible. And, in many cases, you can claim IRA contributions made after Dec. 31, 2008 — right up through tax day, April 15, 2009. For 2008, taxpayers under age 50 can contribute up to $5,000; up to $6,000 for those 50 or older. For accurate information based on your personal financial situation, you should consult a tax professional or get more tax tips online from the IRS.
5. Make smart moves — now. Pondering a job move? Decide quickly if you want to deduct it from your 2008 tax return. You can deduct job-related moving expenses in any given year if you move at least 50 miles from your old home and remain employed full time for at least 39 weeks after the move. If you haven’t met the time test by tax day, you can still deduct moving expenses on your 2008 return, provided you expect to stay in the job for at least 39 weeks. But if you quit or get fired before the time period is met, you have to report it to the IRS. See IRS Publication 521 for details. Military moves due to a permanent change of station also qualify for the deduction, but don’t have to meet the distance and time requirements, says J.J. Montanaro, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner™ at USAA.
More ways to Save on Taxes
Here are some more year end tax planning tips.