Thursday, November 5, 2015

Your finances: 3 things to get started on now

This is the time of year when certain money issues come more into focus, including those related to income-tax planning, charity scams and checking up on the financial health of family members. Full Article 

 Tax planning isn't shaping up as anything remarkable over the waning weeks of 2015. Congress hasn't passed any blockbuster legislation affecting individuals this year and, with gridlock on Capitol Hill, might not. That leaves the fate of several popular tax provisions dangling. These "extenders" must be acted on fairly soon or they won't be in force for the coming tax-return filing season.

In any year, investors are wise to determine paper gains and losses in taxable accounts, with an eye on realizing or harvesting losses before year's end. If losses exceed gains, up to $3,000 of the excess can be used to offset ordinary income, and additional losses can be carried forward to future years. 

Otherwise, taxpayers generally would be wise to defer taxable income to next year, if possible, while accelerating deductions so they can be taken in 2015. But that strategy doesn't necessarily hold if you expect to have much larger deductible expenses next year, as with a pending medical procedure, for example. 

In that case, it might pay to bunch deductions into either this year or next, if you might not qualify to itemize both years. Charitable donations are one type of deductible expense for which the timing is easy to control.

CHARITY CAVEATS: Now also is a prime time for charitable donations, and non-profit groups — and scammers — know it. Americans make about one-quarter of their charitable donations over the waning weeks of the year, according to one study. That makes it critical to give money wisely, without getting so caught up in a feel-good moment that you drop your vigilance.

Another option is to search through the "exempt organizations select check" section at (, though this database can be cumbersome. If you donate to a non-profit that isn't legitimate and claim a tax deduction, your deduction could be disallowed, and it might trigger an audit.  

In fact, consider whether you can take advantage of a charitable tax donation. Roughly two in three Americans don't itemize and thus won't get the deduction. An alternate option, especially if money is tight, might be to donate your time instead of your cash.

FAMILY MATTERS: Holiday get-togethers offer an opportunity to check the financial health of friends and family members — elderly relatives especially. Many seniors are affluent yet susceptible to giving away their money for reasons that could involve fear, loneliness, cognitive problems and others.

Strangers account for more than half the financial fraud committed against the elderly, but family members, friends and neighbors sometimes can cause problems, too.  

Wells Fargo suggests watching out for several telltale signs that things might be amiss. Some are obvious, such as large, unexplained loans taken out by an elderly person or personal belongings that have gone missing. Also, watch for wire transfers or large credit card charges, gifts to a caretaker, utility or other routine bills not being paid, and changes to the person's will or other estate-planning documents.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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