Cut your taxes with these year-end moves

Guy holding money

(ARA) — If you made a list of things to accomplish by the end of the year, would "review taxes" appear? If not, add the item and put it toward the top. You could save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on your tax return with these simple tips.

Start by estimating your taxes. Tax preparation solutions make estimating your federal and state taxes easy. One of the leading solutions, TaxACT, releases its products in early October for free use.

An early estimate will reveal where there's still potential for savings. Specifically, look for tax breaks scheduled to expire at the end of 2011. You'll also see the impact of the latest tax law changes on your return. You may discover tax breaks you claimed last year have expired, changed amounts or have different qualifications. Conversely, new tax breaks may be available that require action by Dec. 31.

Knowing the approximate amount you'll be refunded or owe ahead of time may influence your year-end spending. If you expect a large refund, you can begin planning how to invest that money. If you have a balance due, make a payment now or adjust your withholding through the end of the year so you owe less at tax time.

Next, consider making these timely money-saving moves.

  • Give charitably to IRS-approved organizations if you itemize deductions. Whether you donate cash, clothing or household items, save your gift receipts. Use the fair market value to determine the deductible value of your non-cash donations.
  • Some energy-efficient home improvements made before Dec. 31, 2011, qualify for tax credits. Visit energy.gov for information.
  • If you (not your mortgage company) pay your own real estate taxes, consider pre-paying taxes due early 2012 by Dec. 31 so you can deduct them on your federal return.
  • Make your January mortgage payment by Dec. 31 to increase your mortgage interest deduction. If your mortgage interest statement does not reflect your pre-Jan. 1 payment, deduct the correct amount on your tax return and submit a statement explaining the difference between your deduction amount and the lender's statement.
  • Contribute the maximum allowed amounts to your 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans.
  • Convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The gross income cap for who can convert has been removed.
  • Defer income like year-end bonuses and stock options until Jan. 1, 2012 to decrease your taxable income for 2011.
  • If you own stocks with big losses, consider selling them in order to offset taxes on gains.
  • If your state offers 529 College Savings Plans, your contribution could be deductible.
  • Pay your spring college tuition now if you haven't yet reached the Tuition & Fees Deduction $4,000 maximum.

Information about these tax breaks and others for federal returns due April 17, 2012, are available at www.irs.gov.

After you've done everything possible to maximize your tax savings by Dec. 31, gather and organize your tax documents. View or print a list of documents and information you'll need for your return at www.taxact.com/checklist.

Preparing early will allow you to file your return as soon as you receive all your W-2s and 1099s in January or early February. If you owe taxes, you can still file early and schedule payment later (any time before the filing deadline).

Finally, cross taxes off your year-end list and enjoy some peace of mind. It's a great way to end the year and start a new one.

Learn more about TaxACT and start a free federal tax return at www.taxact.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 1 — Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2015 by February 1. Filing your return and paying any tax due by February 2 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by February 1, file and pay your tax by April 18.

February 1 — All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2015. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

February 1 — Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

February 1 — Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2015 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules.

February 1 — Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2015 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2015. If your undeposited tax is $500 r less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2015 - Details

February 1 — Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the fourth quarter of 2015.

February 1 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during December 2015.

February 1 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in December 2015.

February 10 — Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2015 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer - Details

February 10 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of January.

February 12 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of January.

February 15 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) - Details

February 16 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year - Details

February 16 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2015 - Details

February 16 — Publication 509 (2015)
All payments reported on Form 1099S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 14 of Form 1099MISC.

February 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 16 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 17 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2015, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 25 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of January.

February 29 — Regular method taxes.
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of February.

February 29 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2015.

February 29 — Farmers & fishermen
File your 2015 income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due - Details

February 29 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2015. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

February 29 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2015. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

February 29 — Large food and beverage establishment employers
File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31.

February 29 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during January.

February 29 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in January.

View More Tax Dates