Believe it or not, tax-filing season is right around the corner. While Congress and the president wrestle over the "fiscal cliff" and the future of taxes, consumers need to be focused on the 2012 tax year.
To get a speedier refund it helps to file as early as possible. Filing early, in turn, is aided by taking a few steps between now and December 31 to get ready. Here are five things you can do now to get ready:
Think about any life changes you had in 2012 and how these may affect your tax return. Many common events, like having a baby or buying a home, can trigger tax credits or deductions. Start planning for your income tax return by putting together an action timeline and to-do list.
Choose a professional tax preparer, if you need help completing your return. You'll want someone who has been around for a while and who will be around later. If you don't already have a tax preparer, ask friends and family for a referral.
Start now gathering documents you'll need to complete your return. Keep in mind your W-2 and 1099 forms won't be available until the end of January but there are other documents that will prove helpful, like a copy of last year's tax return. If you have a part-time business you can begin now to organize and gather receipts.
Consider year-end tax moves that will reduce your taxable income, such as giving to charity, prepaying your January mortgage payment or increasing your retirement plan contributions.
Create a plan with your tax preparer that includes a list of things to do to get your taxes done this year. Start a shoebox for your tax documents, review your year for life changes and put a target date on the calendar to file.
"The coming tax filing season is shaping up to be like no other in recent years," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "The combination of expiring tax laws and tax policy changes, possible renewed retroactive provisions and last-minute legislative action calls for taxpayers to be extra careful when managing their taxes in order to ensure that there is no money left on the table."
Steber suggests keeping an eye out for late year legislative changes that can impact your future taxes. For example, Extender Provisions, which include the deductions for state and local sales tax, the mortgage insurance premium, deductions for out-of-pocket classroom expenses for teachers, deductions for college tuition and fees, as well as the $500 credit for making energy-efficient home improvements, could all be on the table.
That means paying attention to the news out of Washington over the next few weeks. What happens there could affect you tax-wise in the coming years.