Wednesday, August 14

10 midyear tax moves to make now

| By Kay Bell,
Ah, summertime -- the beach, vacations, hot days and cool drinks, tax forms . . . wait, what? That's right: It's a great time to get a jump on next year's taxes.

It's summer, the best time of the year to think about your taxes. Really.

A lot of people wait until December to start thinking about their tax bills. True, you can and should make some year-end moves by Dec. 31. Bankrate will be back with recommendations at that time.

But now, halfway through the tax year, is even better for tax planning.

You have a good idea of what your earnings will be. And there's still plenty of time to take steps that could cut the taxes you'll owe on that money.

So put down your putter or tennis racket. Step away from the pool. Take a quick break to check out these 10 midyear tax moves.

Then you can get back to your leisure pursuits and really enjoy them, knowing you're in better tax shape.

First things first. If you received an extension to file back in April, finish up your 2012 tax return now.

Sure, you have until Oct. 15 to get the forms to the Internal Revenue Service, but you don't have to wait until the last minute. Finishing up your taxes in a rush, whether in April or October, is a recipe for disaster.

At best, you could overlook a deduction or credit that could cut your tax bill. At worst, you could make a filing mistake that could undo all the tax work you got around to completing.

Remember, too, that the IRS' Free File program is still operational. If your adjusted gross income last year was $57,000 or less, you can use the online system to prepare and file your taxes for, as the name says, free.

Did you get a big refund? Are your work and tax circumstances about the same this year as last?

Then you probably should adjust your withholding so that you won't get a big tax refund next filing season.

Some people view tax refunds as forced savings accounts. That's not necessarily a good idea. It means Uncle Sam, not you, has control of your money for a year.

The ideal payroll withholding situation is to have just enough tax -- not too much, not too little -- withheld from your paychecks to meet your eventual annual tax bill.

In this way, you'll avoid writing the U.S. Treasury a check for tax due if you under-withheld. And if you over-withheld, you won't be waiting for a refund check.

Changing your withholding is easy. Just stop by your payroll office and submit a new W-4.

Estimated tax payments are required if you get income that isn't subject to withholding. It's the IRS' way of ensuring that you're paying as you earn on all your income.

By making the four extra tax payments a year, you'll help ensure you don't underpay your taxes. That's important because if you owe too much at filing time, you could face a tax penalty. But you don't want to overpay your estimated taxes.

Summer's a great time to reassess your estimated tax situation. Look at what you've paid via your April and June 1040-ES filings and see whether your schedule is still on track. If not, you can adjust your upcoming September and January estimated tax payments.

Most working parents are well aware they can claim the child and dependent care credit to help cover day care expenses for the kids. But don't forget about day camp costs during summer.

When school's out, day camps are a good substitute for or supplement to regular child care options. The IRS thinks so, too. It allows you to count the day camp costs toward your child care credit claim.

Remember, only day camps qualify, no overnight kiddie retreats at the lake. But if you did take advantage of this short-term child care help, hang on to those receipts so you can count them when you file your taxes next year.

Is your 2012 tax-filing material still in an unsorted stack? Straighten it out now. If the IRS has questions about your return, you'll be glad you put it in an easily accessible order.

Do the same for your 2013 taxes. It will make filing your return next year that much easier.

Your tax organization system doesn't have to be elaborate. An accordion file works wonders for many folks. But if you want a full file cabinet for your tax documents, go for it.

The key is to pick a system in which you can easily file and then find documentation such as business expense receipts, medical bills, charitable deduction substantiation and the like. And once you get it set up, stick with it.

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