Five key questions for taxpayers
Taxpayers looking to keep more of their money from Uncle Sam this year need to start with a detailed, financial plan.
To that point, anyone who believes they can wait until December to start planning their tax strategy should think again.
Financial advisors stress that now is the time to get serious and that creating a tax planning "to do" list is important. Here are five key questions that taxpayers need to get answers to in order to help them plan their year-end tax strategy.
(Read more: Year-end planning is key)
1. When should I start to plan my year-end tax strategy?
Anywhere from September through November, taxpayers should be thinking about year-end tax planning, financial experts say. It's essential to be able to plan ahead so that you know where you are, tax-wise.
2. What can I do now to lower my current year tax bill?
Taxpayers looking to keep more of their money from Uncle Sam will need to start with a detailed plan. Strategies that work include deferring year-end bonuses until January 2014, delaying the exercise of incentive stock options and postponing receipt of distributions beyond the required minimum from individual retirement accounts.
(Read more: Ask your financial advisor this now)
3. Have there been income tax changes that will directly impact me in 2014?
Yes, especially for high-income earners. For 2013, married couples filing jointly with taxable income greater than $450,000 will face a new 39.6 percent top marginal income tax rate, plus a bump to 20 percent, up from 15 percent, on qualified dividend and long-term capital gains. Joint filers earning more than $250,000 will also be subject to a new 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on net investment income.
4. Should I sell underperforming stocks to offset capital gains?
It's a good idea to consult with a financial expert on this subject. Investors can minimize their capital gains tax bite by selling stocks and mutual funds that have lost in value before the end of the year. The Internal Revenue Service allows investors to offset capital gains with capital losses dollar for dollar.
(Read more: Don't delay year-end financial plans)
5. What are some tax-break options if I make charitable donations?
Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower a tax bill. It's key to know which form to file to claim a charitable contribution, or how to itemize deductions. Investors can also donate appreciated property instead of cash to a charity, which yields double the bang for the buck. This occurs because an individual can deduct the property's fair market value on the date it gifts and avoid paying capital gains tax on the appreciation. It is a good idea to speak with a financial professional to help ensure your giving pays off on your return.
—Shelly K. Schwartz, Special to CNBC.com.