The last days of the year are a time when many are celebrating holidays with family and preparing to ring in the new year, but it's also a time to take just a few minutes to make sure some important financial deadlines aren't missed.
Here's a quick checklist of some of the things that should be considered before the end of the year, and some others that can wait.
Individual Retirement Account (IRA) conversions. The deadline to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is Dec. 31. Some people convert funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA for tax-planning and estate-planning purposes.
Charitable contributions. If you plan to deduct charitable contributions from your 2011 income taxes, those contributions must be made by the end of the year. The date a contribution is given is what counts, not the date a pledge may have been made.
Tax-deductible purchases. Whether it's printer paper for your home office or durable medical equipment, if you itemize such expenses, buy those things now if you plan to deduct them from 2011 taxable income. Generally, the date you make a purchase, not the date you receive the items, is the date that counts.
Flexible spending account expenses. If you have an employer-sponsored plan to pay for medical or child-care expenses with pretax money, check the spending deadline with your plan administrator. All funds are use-it-or-lose-it, so you need to spend all the money allocated to your FSA by the end of the plan year, or else your employer gets to keep what's left. The IRS allows a grace period for prior-year expenses until mid-March, but that's up to the plan administrator. And for many plans, the deadline is Dec. 31.
Estimated tax payments. If you make quarterly estimated tax payments, your fourth federal payment for the 2011 tax year is not due until Jan. 17. And, you can skip that estimated payment if you file your 2011 federal tax return by Jan. 30 and pay the entire balance due (see IRS form 1040-ES).
Individual Retirement Account (IRA) contributions. You can make a 2011 contribution to an IRA or Roth IRA until April 16, 2012, the date when federal taxes are due next year. Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible up to certain limits, and both types of IRA qualify for the retirement savings tax credit (see IRS publication 590 at www.irs.gov).
Section 529 education savings accounts. As with IRAs, contributions for 2011 can be made until the tax filing deadline in 2012. For South Carolina residents, contributions to a Future Scholar 529 account count as state income tax deductions. A 529 plan allows parents and grandparents to establish accounts to help pay for certain relative's higher eduction expenses, and any investment earnings are tax-free if used for the intended purpose.
Adjusting your tax withholding amounts. This can be done at any time. Once you have your federal taxes figured out for 2011, you'll see if you had too much or too little money withheld from your paycheck. Then, you can adjust the amount going forward so that you don't have a big tax bill for 2012, but you also don't give Uncle Sam a big tax-free loan.
A note to readers: I'm making a list and checking it twice to see how I was able to cut costs, save money and stretch my dollars in 2011.
I'd like to hear how you saved money, and learn which tips from this column you found helpful. So drop me an email, enjoy the holidays and don't forget to tip your newspaper delivery person.