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Wrap up matters as the year ends

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Year's end causes many people to look ahead to what they want to do in the new year, but Mississippi State University specialists encourage Mississippians to also look back to tie up any loose ends.

Financial matters may be the most important. Susan Cosgrove, Extension area family resource management agent in Newton County, said December and January are perfect times to pull together documentation for income tax filings.

"Gather all W-2 forms you and your spouse received from employers for wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses and tips," Cosgrove said. "Collect unemployment statements or check stubs, 1099 forms for interest or dividend income, annual statements from pensions or Social Security and any statements of alimony received."

Other income records include verification of capital gains or losses, and income and expense records for rental property. Next, gather the year's expense records.

"Make sure you have year-end statements showing interest paid on your mortgage, any casualty or theft losses, and receipts from charitable contributions, taxes paid, job-related expenses and qualified medical expenses," Cosgrove said.

Some of these papers can't be collected until early 2005, but preparations made now can ease the pressure of tax time.

"Pay your property taxes for 2005 before Dec. 31, make mortgage payments for 2005 in 2004, pay college expenses, make IRA contributions and defer income to 2005," Cosgrove said. "If you're operating a business, buy equipment before the end of the year. Other financial actions that can have a tax benefit when done early include making a state income tax estimate payment, joining a state prepaid tuition plan and making non-cash contributions."

Every $1,000 donated in cash, securities or tangible items by Dec. 31 cuts the 2004 tax bill by $280 for those in the 28 percent bracket. Cosgrove said the Internal Revenue Service is scrutinizing donations of old cars.

"You can only write off the amount the car would likely sell for; starting next year, your deduction on a car worth more than $500 will be limited to the charity's actual proceeds from the sale of the car," Cosgrove said. "So if you have a car you want to donate, do it this year."

Cosgrove urged consumers to seek the professional advice of a competent financial adviser or tax attorney when planning tax strategies.

Patsilu Reeves, Extension family life education and public policy specialist, said money matters are not the only business to wrap up at year's end.

"Don't carry nagging issues with you into the new year," Reeves said. "The close of the year is a good time to resolve matters that have burdened you down."

Think back on how much time was spent with family and helping others. Reeves urged everyone to adjust priorities if other issues crowd out this time.

"Throw out your bad habits. One bad habit could be not planning your schedule so you can be with your family," Reeves said. "Put it on your calendar so you have an appointment with your family that is just as important as the one you make with your client during the day."

Reeves cited research from Clemson University that suggests the strength of a family or friendship comes from unity, spirituality, communication, contentment, shared history and resiliency. Work out differences that reduce this strength.

"Sit down and make a concerted effort with that person to let bygones be bygones. What happened is less important than being a family or maintaining a friendship," she said.


Released: Dec. 9, 2004
Contact: Susan Cosgrove, (601) 635-2268

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