Q: One of the big tax incentives that is expiring this year has to do with making your home green. How can people take advantage of this tax credit before it's gone?
A: The government introduced a tax credit for energy efficiency last year, but it will expire Dec. 31. If you are thinking of making an energy improvement soon, you must have it installed in your home by Dec. 31, Hobson said.
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If you do, you save money on your monthly utility bill and you'll get a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost, up to a maximum of $1,500, she added.
If you have used a partial credit, you can still use the remaining amount right up until the deadline. Qualifying jobs include the installation of insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, water heaters and roofs, among other things, she said. Only existing homes that are the applicant's principal residence quality for the credit. New homes and rentals do not, she said.
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Q: Health care reform has been a hot topic this year. Is there anything in the bill that will affect my taxes?
A: Many Americans have flexible spending accounts (FSAs) through their employers. FSAs are accounts that allow you to set aside pre-taxed money to use on out-of-pocket health-related costs such as drugs, co-payments and other medical expenses. The downside is that you will lose any money you set aside and fail to spend.
Some companies have a Dec. 31 deadline so account-holders to use the money in their FSAs, while other employers allow until March 15, 2011 for the funds to be exhausted, Hobson said.
Either way, the health care bill now stipulates that, after Dec. 31, you may no longer use FSA funds for over-the-counter drugs -- such as aspirin – without a prescription, Hobson said.
Q:. Many Americans are struggling just to pay their bills on time. Can I save money on my taxes by paying bills early?
A: Hobson said people can save money on their taxes if they prepay some of their bills. For example, those who decide to pay their January mortgage in December can deduct the January interest payment this year.
If a property tax bill is due in January or February of next year, homeowners may also pay it this month and deduct it from their taxes for 2010, she said.
Those who are considering contributing to their child's 529 savings plan may consider putting in a little bit more before the end of the year. Many states allow parents to deduct their annual contributions up to a certain amount, she said. Before you contribute, make sure to talk to a plan provider to ensure the contribution is deductible, she added.
Q: The stock market has been very volatile over the past few years. If I have lost money, how does that affect my taxes?