taxes

6 smart year-end tax strategies to consider

Tax move No. 5: Defer deductions

For some taxpayers, taking advantage of 2012's lower threshold for itemized medical deductions is a good year-end tax strategy.

Other taxpayers, however, might want to claim the standard deduction this year and defer itemized expenses until next year, when they can offset possible higher tax rates.

Another deferral decision is when to pay your last mortgage bill of the year. You can decide to not pay your January mortgage in December, or put off paying your property taxes until the 2013 due date. And make your usual year-end charitable contributions in early January.

Be careful, though, if you expect to make a lot of money in 2013. You could lose some of your deductions. The law that reduces by 3 percent the total of Schedule A claims for high-income earners is one of the former tax laws set to return next year.

Tax move No. 6: Convert to a Roth

If you're considering converting a traditional individual retirement account to a Roth IRA, there are two reasons to do so in 2012.

First, you'll avoid the possibly higher 2013 tax rates on the taxable portion of the converted amount.

Second, you won't have to worry about any possible Medicare surtax issues.

"While the surtax does not apply to income from a Roth IRA conversion, the income from a 2013 Roth conversion could push a taxpayer's adjusted gross income above the applicable threshold," says Bob D. Scharin, senior tax analyst for Thomson Reuters in New York City. "If that occurs, the Roth conversion could trigger a surtax on the taxpayer's investment income."

As Scharin notes, Roth earnings are not taxable income when you withdraw them in retirement or after holding them for five years because you paid tax on the money before you put it into the account. But when you convert a traditional IRA on which taxes are deferred to a tax-free Roth, you must pay tax on the amount of pretax contributions and earnings you transfer.

If your traditional IRA earnings are large -- $100,000 is not unusual for an account that's been growing tax-deferred for many years -- the conversion amount combined with your earnings on other taxable assets could push your earnings past the $200,000 threshold for single filers ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly). And that would require you to pay the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax in 2013.

But what happens if you convert and the tax rates don't increase (or your stock holdings suffer losses)? You can nullify the conversion tax by recharacterizing your converted Roth back to a traditional IRA. You have until Oct. 15, 2013, to make that reversal.

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Our tax expert Kay Bell provides resourceful tips and advice to help you stay prepared for filing.

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