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Hack Your Taxes Before Jan. 1

Hack Your Taxes Before Jan. 1

    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.

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    1. 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.
    2. 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).
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. Spend money on your class room. If you are an educator, you can deduct up to $250 for purchasing educational materials for your classroom.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Refinance your home. If you have to pay points to refinance your home, you can deduct them over the life of your new loan.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. 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.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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