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Time to make these tax moves before year-end

Before the holidays become all-consuming, now's a great time to focus on some financial moves to make that can lower your taxes when you file next year.

The point of year-end tax planning is pretty straightforward: It's to make some specific transactions (contributions, payments, donations, sales, purchases) before Dec. 31 so that when you prepare your 2015 tax return, you'll have more deductions and less income. And, therefore, pay less income tax or get a bigger tax refund.

Here are a few such year-end tax saving strategies to consider.

Max out 401(k) and retirement plans

Check to see if you're on track to contribute the maximum allowed to your 401(k). For 2015, that's $18,000. If you've contributed less, some employers will allow you to catch up on contributions by increasing your deduction on your last few paychecks. If you're 50 or over, don't forget that you can contribute an additional $6,000 "catch-up" contribution for a total of $24,000 for 2015.

Pay taxes before year-end

If you itemize deductions and you own a home with real estate taxes that are due in the next several months, consider paying these before the end of the year. Also make sure you've fully paid your state income tax, too, because they're eligible to be claimed on Schedule A as itemized deductions.

Donate to charity

With stock markets possibly headed for some increased volatility as the Federal Reserve gets set to finally start raising its policy interest rate, now's a good time to think about donating shares to charity, instead of donating cash. That's because you can deduct the market value of the donated shares, and neither you nor the charity will have to report the gains.

So, if you donate shares that you bought for $5,000 that are now worth over $8,000, you can claim a charitable donation for $8,000 and not incur any gains.

Sell investments with unrealized losses

If you own stock or a mutual fund in a taxable brokerage account with a loss, consider selling that position now and realize the capital loss. That would offset any capital gains you may have realized from other investment sales or capital gains distributions from mutual funds. If you have more losses than gains, losses up to $3,000 would reduce your adjusted gross income, and the excess amount can be carried over to future tax years until it's used up. .

Section 179 expense deduction

This deduction is a real benefit for small and midsize business owners. In 2015, they can immediately deduct up to $25,000 of qualifying assets bought to conduct their business. This includes your costs for business equipment, computers, machinery, software, etc. The only catch here is that the asset must be placed in service before the end of Dec. 31. This deduction begins to be phased out dollar-for-dollar when the spending on business assets exceeds $200,000. Neither of these limits should be a problem for small and midsize business owner.

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