With everything going on in December, taxes are the last thing we want to think about. But this is a crucial time if you’re looking to save some money when you send in returns in a few months. You probably already know to make sure you’ve used up your flexible spending account or to contribute to your IRA, but here are a few other things you can do during the year-end crunch.
- Decide whether or not you (or your parents) will itemize deductions. Run the numbers to decide whether you’re better off taking the standard deduction (which is $5,950 for single filers or $11,900 for those who are married filing jointly). If you are going to itemize, look for opportunities to increase the amount of deductions before the year is over, since all deductions will lower your tax bill. For example, if you make a larger-than-usual donation to charity you’ll reap extra benefits. This may motivate you to do a little holiday cleaning, and take unused clothing or furniture to The Salvation Army or Goodwill. These organizations will provide you with a receipt, and you’ll be able to claim the item’s fair value as a deduction.
- Make large gifts now. If you or your parents want to give someone a large cash gift, write the check and make sure it’s cashed before January 1. You can give as much as $13,000 to an individual without being required to pay gift tax.
- Make an extra house payment. Here’s a trick for maximizing your deductions if you’ll be itemizing next year. Make your January mortgage payment early. As long as you mail it by December 31, the payment will qualify for this tax year.
- Review medical expenses. How much have you and your parents paid for medical care out-of-pocket? If your medical expenses are greater than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct them on your tax return. If you are close, you may be able to find ways to get care or purchase supplies that will put you over the edge.
- Consider claiming your parent as a dependent. If you pay more than 50% of your parent’s expenses, and their gross income is less than $3,800 (not counting disability payments, tax-exempt income, or Social Security), you can claim them as a dependent. Again, if you’re just shy of qualifying, see if you can make up the gaps in the last few weeks of the year.
As always, be sure to check with your accountant before taking any of these steps.