It’s hard to believe, but another year is almost in the books. Before you get consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, here are some tips you might want to consider doing before year-end.
Start Getting Organized
If your New Year’s resolution of promptly filing (or shredding) paperwork and receipts has gone out the window, it’s not too late. Find some free time to start sorting through your piles and identify which information you’re going to need. Every moment you can spare now will help lessen the headache as tax season gets closer.
Clean Your Closet
It’s probably the last thing you want to add to the to-do list, but find some time to clean out your closet. Good-condition items that you don’t wear or use anymore can be donated, and their value used as a tax-deduction. Be sure and get a receipt for the items–you are responsible for determining the value of the goods, within reasonable limits. Goodwill offers a helpful valuation guide based on IRS guidelines for donations. If you’re a woman with a lot of dressier clothing items, Dress for Success is a great organization that helps disadvantaged women get ready for the workplace.
Give Away Money to Your Favorite Charities
You have until December 31 to make a donation to a 501(c)3 charity for a deduction on your 2015 taxes. By waiting until now, you’ve also gained the advantage of earning interest on your money throughout the year. Learn more about charitable giving.
Give Away Money to Your Favorite People
Known as the annual exclusion by the IRS, 2015 limits allow you to give another person up to $14,000 in cash or other assets tax-free each year ($28,000 if combined with your spouse).* Happy holidays, indeed.
Use Up Flexible Spending Accounts
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which contain money for medical-related expenses that you’ve set aside on a pre-tax basis, have historically been a “use it or lose it” benefit. While your employer now has more flexibility to allow carry over or extra time to use the funds, be sure that you understand the rules in place as part of your health plan options. You absolutely don’t want to leave money on the table, even if you have to buy a five-year supply of bandages to spend it down.
If you’ve already hit your medical plan deductible (or still have money in an FSA), talk to your doctor and see if there is any routine care or tests you need and can have done before the end of the year. Otherwise, the clock starts again on January 1.
Pay particular attention to plans that have benefit allowances every 12 months. For example, you may have a vision plan that allows a certain amount for glasses, eye exams, etc. A good strategy might be to schedule an eye exam in December, then purchase your eyeglasses or contacts the following January.
Don’t Tie the Knot, Yet
If you’re thinking about heading to the courthouse with your significant other soon, you might want to wait until after January 1. Your 2015 taxes will be calculated as a married couple regardless of how long you’ve actually been hitched during the year, potentially subjecting you to the marriage penalty (though there can be benefits as well). However, if you have already planned a winter wonderland-themed wedding gala for family and friends prior to December 31, by all means do not take this advice.
Fully Fund Your Retirement Accounts
If your finances allow it, be sure and fully fund your retirement account to the maximum allowed by year-end. The 2015 (and 2016) IRS limit for a traditional 401(k) plan is $18,000, plus an extra $6,000 for catch-up contributions if you’re over age 50 and your employer allows it. You can typically make Individual Retirement Account (IRA) contributions for the tax year until April 15 of the following year. Be sure and check with your employer or tax preparer if you have questions.
Ask Your Advisor About Tax Opportunities in Your Portfolio
While you should carefully consider your overall investment approach and time-frames, if you own investments that are currently below the value for which you purchased them and if you don’t believe they will rebound in value, consider talking to your advisor about the benefits of selling them for a tax loss. You will also want to talk to your tax advisor about holding periods for the investment, and waiting periods before rebuying the same, or a similar investment.
Practice Energy Efficiency
Federal tax credits are still in effect through 2016 for installation of geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and solar energy systems. Visit EnergyStar.gov for more information. For a database of state-specific tax credits, rebates and savings that may be available to you, visit Energy.gov.
While every financial situation is different, these are some general actions that you might want to consider before year end. Taking some simple steps now could help result in a stress-free New Year and tax season for you and your family.
*The annual exclusion counts toward your lifetime IRS estate tax maximum. Speak with your accountant or tax professional.
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