PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- With just a few days left in this calendar year, it's still not too late to check out your tax situation.
You could make some changes in 2021 that could affect your tax status.
"Absolutely not too late to take some action," Robert Morris University professor Carol Macphail said.
Blame the pandemic and all the changes in the law that members of Congress and both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have enacted over the last couple of years.
Even certified public accountants can't keep up.
"There're so many changes this year," CPA Christopher Cuddy told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Monday. "I just attended two eight-hour seminars and the booklet was 1,100 pages long, just on the changes in the tax law."
But the basic rule remains the same: If you want to pay fewer taxes in 2021, increase your allowable deductions – and, if possible, put off the receipt of income like bonuses until after Dec. 31.
"Some companies do offer that option," Cuddy said.
As for deductions, the easiest one for everyone, even those who don't file an itemized tax return, is donating to a legitimate charity, says Robert Morris University professor Carol MacPhail.
"So on a single return, $300 as a deduction for adjusted gross income, even if you don't itemize, and on a joint return that would be $600," MacPhail said.
Accelerating your deductions is another tip. Pay this week things that are deductible that could be paid next month like January's home mortgage interest or local property taxes. Or pay this week your child's tuition bills or fees for your own classes to improve your skills.
"Let's say you have a child in college or you're taking a class yourself at a qualified educational institution. As long as you may that payment by Dec. 31, there is a credit that's still available," Cuddy said.
It's called the lifetime learning credit and may give you up to $2,000.
As you think about your tax situation, MacPhail recommends this before taking action.
"The key thing people need before they take any steps is they have to know what tax bracket they're in, both in the current year and the bracket they expect to be in next year."
There are seven tax brackets that range from 10 percent to 37 percent, and you want to avoid being bumped into a higher bracket if you can. Making donations to charities can help since that reduces your adjusted gross income.
"That could be done by check. Date of mailing is considered the date of the contribution, but it can also be done by credit card," Macphail said.
For those who itemize, another possible deduction is your January 2022 mortgage interest payment if you pay it this week, and if you have a property tax bill from your municipality or school district, pay it off this week to claim the total deduction on your return.
Another tip, says Cuddy, if you lost money in the stock market this year, that loss could offset some of your income.
"If your losses exceed $3,000, you get to pick up a $3,000 deduction on your tax return, and the remaining amount will be carried forward the next year," Cuddy said.
And Cuddy has another tip for small business owners who rent business facilities. Prepay some of your 2022 rent this week if you want to deduct it in 2021.
Finally, it's not a bad time to think ahead.
"It's also a good time to take stock. What will your W-2 look like next year? And maybe this is the time to adjust your withholding," Macphail said.
If the government is withholding too much of your money, that may get you a bigger refund a year later. But it's also money you don't have to spend or invest during the year.
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