'Twas a few days before Christmas ...
Last minute gift ideas
for the tax geek in your life

Home for the holidays

Like the single family detached dwelling, family and Christmas is an American ideal. Everyone coming from far and wide to gather at one place, such as the idyllic grandparents' house, and celebrate a la a Norman Rockwell painting.

As I've aged, my family has, sadly, gotten smaller. But this year my mother is here and an aunt who lives down the road will be dropping by. So I can't complain … at least not until after eating too much ham in a couple of days!

It's been a good year for the hubby and me. We always make a point to remember that during this month while we're enjoying our holiday decorations and anticipating what goofy gifts we came up with for each other after more than a quarter century together.

Mantel07_for_dmwt_2_3That's our mantel there at the right, for which I take full credit or blame. Trimming the tree is the hubby's job, and I'll share his 2007 version with you in a couple of days.

For a lot of folks, though, the Christmas hearth is not what they hoped it would be this December. Much has been written about 2007's bursting real estate bubbles (including this piece on coastal Florida in today's New York Times), the foreclosure epidemic, the subprime debacle and ensuing legislative "fixes", so I won't rehash here.

But I do want to take a moment to mention folks who are in even direr straits, and to encourage all y'all who, like the hubby and me, have many, many reasons and the ability to revel in the season, to not forget those who can't.

The real giving season: Even at this late date, your community probably has a toy program for kids who otherwise wouldn't get a gift from Santa. While the organization might not be accepting toys right now, it most likely would welcome a financial donation. If you can't find one locally, consider the Marine Corps' national Toys for Tots effort.

There also are churches and public service groups who will be dishing out a Christmas meal for folks who have no kitchen of their own. A Google search is a good place to start, as is this Web page with a clickable map. And don't forget to check out the national office of the Salvation Army or your local branch.

Again, you don't have to don an apron to help, although many of these groups probably wouldn't turn you away if that's how you want to spend part of the 25th; you can provide a fiscal donation to help restock their shelves.

For folks who do have places to cook up a holiday dinner, but not enough food to do so, there also are food banks. Second Harvest will gladly accept your donations or direct you to one of its local affiliates.

Added pay backs: And now for how your goodwill can help you, although that's not the reason you're doing any of this.

If you itemized your taxes, you can deduct your financial donations. If you're short of cash right now, you can charge your contribution and it'll still count toward your 2007 tax return as long as you make the pledge by Dec. 31.

If you choose to give of your time, you can't deduct those hours volunteered. But there are still a few tax breaks for volunteers, detailed in this story.

Again, all these tax considerations are just afterthoughts. I know you give because the greatest joy is the act itself. But just in case your tax accountant asks in a couple of weeks, I wanted you to be prepared. That's my gift to you!

Saving on home-buying fees: If life has been good to you, too, and you're considering buying a home in the coming months, you'll want to read Gretchen Morgenson's story, also in today's New York Times, about "two entrepreneurs with decades of mortgage industry experience have devised a Web site that helps consumers protect themselves from excessive fees and hidden relationships that can drive up the costs of buying a home."

Her story is here and the site is FeeDisclosure.com.


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