Hack Your Taxes Before Jan. 1
December 19 by Thursday Bram | Featured, Money
If you live in the U.S., the due date to file your tax return isn’t until next April. If you want to get some major benefits on your taxes, though, you have to take action before the end of the year: after all, in April, you’re paying taxes for the year of 2008. There are plenty of loopholes that can provide you with some significant advantages, depending on your financial situation. The list below is only a smattering of possible opportunities; it may be worth consulting with a tax professional about your own situation, especially since not all of these opportunities will be useful for everyone.
- Make early payments. If you make your first mortgage payment of 2009 before Jan. 1, you can deduct the interest on this year’s taxes. The same goes for any property taxes that are deductible. However, if you expect to owe more taxes in 2009 than in 2008, it might be worth holding off on those payments so you can take the deductions on next year’s taxes.
- Get elective surgery. If you’ve already paid for medical expenses this year totaling 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct any medical costs over that amount. If you’ve been planning to get some sort of surgery, scheduling it before the end of the year can pay off. Stocking up on your medical supplies and can also qualify, as can making improvements to your home for medical purposes (installing a ramp or pull bars, for example).
- Take a look at your investment losses. If you’ve taken significant losses in investments recently, you can offset capital gains on your taxes or — if you have more losses than you have gains, you can reduce your taxable ordinary income by up to $3,000 on your tax return.
- Sell a second home. If you’re working on selling a second home and you can close before Jan. 1, try to do so: a loophole closes at the end of the year that allows homeowners with multiple houses to defer the gain from the sale of other properties.
- Buy a Honda hybrid. I’d never suggest running out and buying a car just to get a tax break, but if you’re planning to buy a Honda hybrid soon anyhow, be aware that you can get a tax credit of $525 on it — up until Jan. 1, at which point the tax credit will be eliminated. There are other credits available for other clean-fuel cars.
- Sign up for a conference. Paying professional dues, getting certified, going to conferences and other job-related expenses are tax deductible after you’ve passed a certain threshold — two percent of your adjusted gross income. You’ll want to make the payment before the end of the year, however.
- Give to charity. A favorite way to reduce taxes for quite a while, giving a few dollars to charity now can help your taxes come April. Quite a few charities are struggling to meet demands right now, especially food banks, by the way. Before you sign the check, however, check IRS Publication 78 to make sure that you’ll be able to deduct the donation. You don’t have to give cash, by the way.
- Spend money on your class room. If you are an educator, you can deduct up to $250 for purchasing educational materials for your classroom.
- Top off your retirement account. There are a whole stack of tax advantages associated with 401(k), 403(b), and IRA accounts — I won’t go into all of them right here, but check what opportunities your retirement account gives you. You may need to put more money in to get the full benefit, though.
- Open a business. The amount of deductions you can take even if you’re just posting garage sale finds on eBay are incredible. You can deduct everything from a percentage of your mortgage to bank fees. You can even write off business debts.
- Refinance your home. If you have to pay points to refinance your home, you can deduct them over the life of your new loan.
- Get your taxes prepared. You can deduct the cost of having your taxes prepared either as a miscellaneous deduction on your personal return or as a business expense. The same is often true for any legal, accounting or financial planning fees that relate to tax planning.
- Go back to school. There are both deductions and credits associated with higher education. If you pay for next semester before Jan. 1, you can take advantage of the deduction this year.
- Search for a new job. If you’re on a job search, related expenses like hiring a resume writer or paying a fee to an employment agency can be tax deductible. If you have to move to accept a job, those expenses are also deductible.
- Take money from Mom and Dad for your student loans. If your parents help you to pay down your student loans, you can still deduct the interest. If anyone else helps you out, though, no one gets to deduct that interest.
It’s important to remember that a lot of these moves don’t make sense if you’re just doing them for the tax break. However, if you were planning to get some sort of elective surgery or buy a Honda hybrid, for instance, it may be reasonable to move up your schedule for the tax benefit. Take a close look at your overall financial picture before moving forward. Because everyone’s situation is different, you may want to consult with a professional and rely on his advice.