The 12 Tax Tips of Christmas:
#4 Be charitable
Senate pulls the estate tax plug

The 12 Tax Tips of Christmas:
#5 Do a mock tax return

Practice makes perfect, for singers as well as taxpayers. That's why today's 12 Tax Tips of Christmas recommendation is for you do a mock tax return.

5 golden rings I know. The thought of filling out a bunch of tax forms just for practice makes you want to run away screaming. But better to do that now -- both the form completion and the screaming -- than in April when it really counts.

You can get an idea of what your 2009 tax will be by inputting as much info as you can. Use your latest paycheck stub for income and withholding data. Check the Web sites of your tax-related accounts -- your mortgage company for loan interest and property tax payments made so far in 2009, your investment and savings accounts for taxable earnings amounts. Then plug that data into IRS forms.

You have two options for your dry run tax return.

You can download the forms you'll need (or think you'll need) from Most are updated and available now.

Or you can go to one of the tax software Web sites and set up an online filing account. In many cases, online filing is free. Even if it isn't, you don't have to pay until you file. Take advantage of the opportunity to start your return and get an idea of what to expect.

And if you decide you like the online software program, then you've got a head start for when you are actually ready to submit your Form 1040.

If your mock paper or PC return reveals that you're going to get a refund, then you'll know you should file as soon as possible next year.

If, however, the news isn't good and you'll owe, you might be able to take some steps (like those offered in our year-end tax moves series this week) to trim that bill a bit.

At the very least, you'll how much money you'll need to come up with by April 15 so you can start planning on how to get it now.

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