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December! Time for shopping, holiday parties and taxes!

So how's your December going so far? Mine is off to a totally crazy start.

We had guests for Thanksgiving. I'm not complaining, but when it's just the hubby and me, I can squeeze in a little work, too. Since that didn't happen, I'm swamped right now.

Then this week some long-planned home repairs/improvements finally started. Today I'm being held hostage in my house as men destroy the structure. OK, so it's really just a roofing crew peeling off the old shingles in preparation for a new covering.

Old roof debris 120215Part of our old roof, a temporary December decoration for our backyard.

But it sounds horrible! I keep going to the window to make sure that latest loud whap was not one of the workers. Plus, in the meantime, I'm working on scheduling installation of a new front door, hopefully not until after the roofers are gone.

And of course there are taxes. There always are taxes, even in December when we're thinking about things that are a lot more fun -- like presents and holiday sweets and decorations! -- than the Internal Revenue Code.

But if you ignore your taxes right now, it could cost you next spring when you file.

I've been doing a slew of interviews, mostly radio, on tax steps you can take in this last month of the year to help trim your 2015 tax bill. Here's some of what I've been saying.

Take stock of your stocks: It's been a wild year for investors. The market hit new highs. It dropped to alarming relative lows. Overall, right now the markets are running about flat for the year. But during one of the gyrations you might have sold an asset and pocketed some profit. Good for you. But remember, you'll likely owe tax on those gains, either 15 percent or 20 percent depending on your tax bracket.

You could reduce or even zero those profits, and hence eliminate the taxes, by selling some holdings that have dropped in value. You can offset your gains with those losses. And if your losses are more than your gains, you can use up to $3,000 of your losses to reduce your ordinary taxable income.

So give your portfolio a look. Don't make changes just for tax reasons; make sure the move is a wise one for your overall financial plan. But if it is, then take tax advantage. And do so by Dec. 31 to affect your 2015 tax bill.

Get into the giving spirit: December is, after all, the season of giving. If you expand that goodwill beyond your family and friends, you could get a tax break.

If your portfolio review turned up some assets that are doing fine but no longer fit into your investment strategy, don't sell them and incur the tax bill. Instead give the appreciated stock to charity.

Most nonprofits will take these types of donations, which they then can sell and use the money for their needs with no tax consequences. And you, good-hearted investor, will get to claim the asset's value at the time of the donation as an itemized charitable tax deduction.

The one caveat here is that the appreciated gifted asset must be a long-term holding; that is, one that you've owned for more than a year.

You also can donate a vehicle (car, boat, or other motorized vehicle) to charity; buy supplies or other needed items for a nonprofit and count that unreimbursed expense as a donation; use your car to do volunteer work for your favorite charity and deduct that mileage; and even give plain old money to charities, either as cash, a check or via your credit card.

Regardless of how or what you give, just make sure you follow the Internal Revenue Service's charitable donation rules to ensure that you get your tax break.

Take care of home tax tasks: Yes, I'm a bit fixated on my house right now. The hammering phase has begun. I've never understood how putting holes in a roof is a good idea. But I digress.

My new roof won't give me an immediate tax break, but it's a capital improvement that could affect the tax we might owe (or not) when we eventually sell our house.

And in less drastic home/tax situations, there are a couple of December tax moves that can maximize your residence's tax deductible amounts on your coming return filing.

Make your January mortgage payment by Dec. 31. That payment includes interest, which is generally deductible. The early payment will give you extra interest that you can deduct on Schedule A.

Do the same with your property taxes that, if they're like ours, aren't officially due until early next year. Then you can also write off that local real estate tax payment as an itemized deduction.

If money's a bit tight right now, consider making a partial property tax payment. Your local tax assessor-collector will be happy to take just a portion early. And the balance that you pay next year will give you some real estate taxes to claim on your next year's taxes, too.

Tinsel and tax moves: The year-end bottom line is to at least look at your taxes this month.

I know, I know. It's December. Holidays! Goodies! Santa! But think of your year-end tax review and possible savings as a gift to yourself.

You can find more December Tax Moves to make over in the ol' blog's right column. It's under the seasonally appropriate bright red heading of the same name, just below the countdown clock ticking off, like Christmas tree lights, the rapidly dwindling hours left in 2015.

You also can check out an earlier Weekly Tax Tip that has more details on 10 year-end tax moves to make.

Again, I know taxes aren't at the top of your holiday to-do list, but try to make a little time for some of these tax-cutting options. They could be gifts that keep on giving when you do your taxes next year.


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