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Lower Your Taxes THIS YEAR! – Here are 6 ideas that most people can use

As Congress debates tax law changes, and we watch the give and take like its a bad soap opera the clock keeps ticking towards the end of the tax year. So what can you do? Here are some time tested tax reduction ideas.

While 2012 winds down, there is still time to reduce your tax burden. Here are six ideas that can save money for most of us.

  1. Pre-tax Savings. Take advantage of opportunities to set aside income on a pre-tax basis. This includes participation in company sponsored retirement savings programs, Health Savings Accounts (HSA), and “Flex Benefits” accounts that allow using pre-tax earnings to pay for childcare and out-of-pocket medical costs. Remember, however, unlike HSAs it is important to use up any funds in your Flex health care accounts and dependent care accounts prior to the end of the plan year as any unused funds will be forfeited.
  2. Defer Income and Accelerate Deductions (or vice versa!). When possible think about whether it is better to reduce taxable income in this year or next year. By understanding which tax year will be more advantageous to you, you can act to defer income into a subsequent tax year and accelerate deductible expenses into the current tax year. On the other hand you may believe tax rates will be higher next year. If this is the case you will want to move as much income into the current year and defer expenses.Here are some ideas if your strategy is to minimize taxable income this year:
    • Delay receipt of a bonus check
    • Make an extra house payment
    • Make extra charitable contributions (that you would make anyway)
    • Make next year’s church donations this year.
    • Make extra trips to donate non-cash items prior to January 1st
    • Review your investments to book gains and/or losses
  3. Make Interest Expense Deductible. Move non-deductible interest expenses (personal credit cards) to deductible interest expense (home equity loans).
  4. Maximize tax-exempt and tax-deferred Investments. The higher your tax bracket the more tax savings you’ll realize with tax exempt and tax deferred contributions such as employer sponsored 401(k)s, IRA’s, tax-free municipal bonds, and Section 529 College Savings Plans.
  5. Navigate Estate Planning. Manage the value of your estate to minimize estate taxes through gifting, trusts, life insurance, annuities, and other estate planning tools.
  6. Avoid Penalties. Avoid costly penalties and interest charges by filing your returns and paying taxes owed on a timely basis, as required by the IRS.

Plus a bonus thought. Look for ways to double dip the tax savings. One of the best examples of this is the donation of appreciated stock (held over one year) to a charitable organization. Not only do you get to deduct the appreciated value of the stock, you also avoid paying capital gains tax on the increased value of the shares.