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Just past midyear tax moves

To_do_list_2 Yeah, you're right. That wasn't my original headline. I had planned to post these midyear tax planning moves about a month ago.

But all y'all know how it goes. Life gets crazy. Time gets away from you. And as your to-do list keeps growing, your good intentions get pushed to the bottom of it.

So we're a month into the second half of 2008. So what. There's still time to make some moves that can help you cut your tax bill when you file your return next year. Here are three things you can do right now.

Adjust your withholding
Did you receive a big refund last year? That means -- wait for it -- you gave Uncle Sam an interest free loan of your money. Yeah, I know I say it all the time, but intentionally getting a refund is not a good tax or financial move. In fact, it's better to owe the IRS a little something. I'm not talking thousands here; a hundred bucks or so that you can cover on April 15. That means you've had use of all your money all year.

So if you got a big refund or owed a lot this filing season, tweak your payroll withholding. A midyear review of where you are as far as your taxes will help you fill out a more accurate W-4. And don't forget that the IRS has a withholding calculator that's a lot easier to use than the paper worksheet included with the form.

Contribute to your retirement accounts
True, you have until April 15 of the following year to put money in an IRA, either traditional or Roth. Why wait? If you have a few extra bucks now, send them to your IRA. They'll start earning interest sooner and you'll get more use of the power of compounding. You can put up to $5,000 in an IRA for 2008.

Do you have a 401(k)? Is your choice of investment for that account still appropriate for your life? Or is it simply a fund that's not doing its job, say one heavily invested in real estate and taking a beating right now?  It’s important to always keep an eye on your workplace retirement account and adjust as necessary. That also means bumping up your contribution percentage. If you're not putting in at least the minimum that your employer will match, you're losing retirement money. And if you're doing really well and can afford it, you can stash up to $15,500 in your qualified company plan.

If you're age 50 or older, make sure you're taking advantage of catch-up provisions. For IRAs in 2008, that's another $1,000. Catching up also applies to 401(k)s; older employees can save up to $20,500 in these accounts this year.

Check out this table for plan limits if you contribute to another type of retirement account.

Evaluate your portfolio
Admit it. You've been watching the stock market gyrations continuously. If  you've decided to make some moves, be sure you account for any associated tax costs. You've got to consider capital gains, including the new zero rate for some folks, capital losses, and wash sale rules, just to name a few.

Don't let the tax implications scare you; you always want to make your investment decisions based on what's right for your financial plan, not just the tax costs. But don't forget them.

The links above provide more details on each of these investment tax issues. Also check out this post on year-end investment tax moves, as the actions discussed there can be taken well before December.

More midyear tax and money moves: That should keep you busy for a bit.

If you're better organized that I and have already taken care of the tax moves above, the National Association of Tax Professionals has some more midyear tax-planning suggestions. So does my fellow tax blogger William Perez in this post from his U.S. Tax Planning blog.

And My Dollar Plan has a nice, succinct list of 10 money moves to make about now.

Happy tax and financial planning!


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