I don't know about you, but December has taken me by surprise again this year. And even while I get excited about the holiday parties and our traditional Christmas breakfast of strawberries and biscuits, I am also suddenly aware of those end-of-year deadlines. Unless you've been really diligent this fall, here are some simple tasks that will keep you from following up your holiday recovery with panic attacks:
- If you are a business owner, you need to think about your annual reports for the state, as well as taxes. Here in Massachusetts the reports are often due in the fall. If you missed the deadline, the penalty is small, but you will want to get those in before they get lost in the taxes. Here is your link to the MA state filing forms & instructions.
- Planning ahead can often save you on taxes. I know you've heard this before, but this is the moment to actually do something about it. Contact your financial planner or accountant now to see whether it makes sense for you to: sell some investments at a loss (to offset other income); sell some at a gain (if, for instance, you think your tax bracket will be higher for 2016 than it is for 2015, or you would rather pay this year); make some charitable donations or gifts to the family; make a big purchase for the business before December 1; set up a trust.
- Put a little more in your retirement account. Now that you've reached the end of the year, you may find that you can afford to put a little more money into your 401k, IRA or other active retirement plan. The IRS allows many retirement contributions to be made anytime up until you pay your taxes, BUT your plan may well have an earlier deadline. Make your contribution by December 31st to be sure.
- Set aside some cash if you've had any unexpected income this year. Most people count on the money deducted from their paychecks to cover the taxes that will be due on April 15th. But if you've received money from a side job, from shares in a business, from the sale of some investments, or if you just received a large gift or prize, you probably owe extra taxes. Plan now to keep some cash aside in your account to cover those. And, if this happens regularly, talk to your accountant about paying quarterly estimated taxes to avoid penalties.
- Get those receipts together. You probably won't get all of the paperwork you need to file your taxes until January or even February. This stuff includes everything from W2 statements to health insurance coverage certificates and bank or investment tax statements. But you can get your tax receipts in order before the holiday and be ready to turn the whole mess over to your accountant as soon as the paperwork comes in. You will be especially glad you did if you are the tax preparer for your household.
Last but not least, make sure you know who is going to prepare the taxes for you and how. If you are one of those brave do-it-yourself tax filers, go ahead and purchase the tax software now. It's ready and waiting for you.
If you hope to turn this problem over to a professional, keep in mind that these folks get harder and harder to find as April approaches. Ask for referrals to a good accountant in your area (your financial planner always keeps a list) and make contact now.
When the early spring finally hits, you could be enjoying warm sun and daffodils instead of a shoebox of fading receipts and late night caffeine fixes.