It may seem too early to start thinking about your tax return, but procrastination could cost you thousands of dollars. Here are a few simple maneuvers that could save you a bundle on your taxes — if you make them by Dec. 31.
Move money into a 401(k)
In 2018, you can funnel up to $18,500 ($24,500 if you’re 50 or older) of your pay into a traditional 401(k) and avoid paying taxes on that money until you withdraw the funds. If your employer offers a match on contributions, you’ll get free money to boot. If you don’t have access to a 401(k), you may be able to shield up to $5,500 from taxes ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older) by putting the money into a traditional IRA.
Bunch your charitable donations
With a higher standard deduction this year, donating one big amount instead of a series of small amounts could change the tax game, says Kerry Garner, a CPA in Franklin, Tenn. A married couple might not score a tax break from a $15,000 annual donation, for example, but bunching the donations into a $30,000 gift every other year could, he notes.
Sell the losers
If you made money on the sale of investments in 2018, you might have some capital gains tax to pay in April. But you might be able to offset some of those gains with losses. If your losses exceed your gains, you may be able to deduct the difference on your tax return, up to $3,000 per year ($1,500 for those married filing separately).
Make a decision on that divorce
If you’re still negotiating with your soon-to-be ex and expect to pay or receive alimony, keep an eye on the calendar. In general, for divorces finalized after Dec. 31, alimony payers will no longer be able to deduct their payments, and recipients will no longer have to include that money as taxable income.
Meet your tax preparer
The sooner your tax preparer has an idea of how your year is shaping up, the sooner he or she can find you more ways to save. That’s especially true for people who are self-employed or have unusual sources of income, Garner notes. “I try to do it the first week of December, so it still leaves them plenty of time to actually get things done,” he says.