The Clock Is Ticking: Ten Last-minute Tax Moves

Although there are precious few days left in the year, it is still not too late to cut your 2010 tax bill. But you may have to move fast. Here are ten prime tax-saving ideas to consider.

  1. Capital gains and losses: If you are showing a net capital gain for the year, you may realize losses from security sales to offset the gain, plus up to $3,000 of ordinary income. Conversely, if you are showing a net loss, any gains are tax-free up to the amount of the loss. Reminder: The maximum tax rate on net long-term capital gain in 2010 is 15%.
  2. Charitable donations: If you give to charity via credit card, the gift is deductible in 2010 as long as it is posted by the credit card company before the end of the year. It does not matter if you actually pay off the charge in 2011. Make sure that all charitable donations are properly substantiated.
  3. State and local taxes: If you prepay next year’s state and local taxes, you can increase your current deduction. However, do not prepay if you expect to owe the alternative minimum tax (AMT) this year, because these taxes are not deductible for AMT purposes.
  4. Dependency exemptions: If your child is younger than 19, or a full-time student younger than 24, you can generally claim a $3,650 dependency exemption for the child if you provide more than half of his or her support. You might give some end-of-year support—perhaps a generous holiday gift—to push you over the threshold.
  5. Medical expenses: Medical expenses are deductible to the extent your annual total exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If you have cleared this threshold in 2010, you can schedule routine medical or dental examinations for December. Otherwise, you might postpone these visits.
  6. Miscellaneous expenses: Similarly, you can deduct miscellaneous expenses only to the extent the annual total exceeds 2% of your AGI. Therefore, you might pay certain expenses—like safe deposit box fees or tax advisory fees—to maximize your deduction for 2010.
  7. Energy credits: The tax law provides a residential energy credit for certain energy-saving installations made in 2010. If you qualify, you can claim a 30% credit up to $1,500 this year (reduced by the amount of the credit claimed in 2009).
  8. 401(k) contributions: There is still time to boost your retirement nest egg by allocating part of your last paycheck to your 401(k) account. If you have cleared the Social Security wage base of $106,800 for 2010, you can use the payroll tax savings without reducing your take-home pay.
  9. Hybrid vehicles: If you are in the market for a hybrid vehicle, make your purchase before 2011. You may be entitled to a special tax credit. Caveat: Credits are phased out for several popular models.
  10. Mutual funds: Generally, it is beneficial to sell mutual fund shares before the fund declares dividends (the ex-dividend date) to avoid tax. Similarly, you may acquire shares after the ex-dividend date has passed.

Depending on changes in the tax law, you might bypass some of these ideas. Of course, everyone’s situation is different. Obtain professional assistance in this area before you take any action.