5 Purchases to Squeeze in Before the End of the Year

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You could miss out on tax credits and more if you don't make these five last-minute purchases.

With only about a week to go before the end of the year, you may be thinking you’re all done shopping until 2014. However, don’t let the books close on 2013 without considering these last-minute purchases.

1. Make your health insurance plan official

If you signed up for health insurance through one of the government exchanges, the clock is ticking for you to make your plan official.

Originally, all policies were requiring the first month’s premium payment by Dec. 31 in order for coverage to begin on Jan. 1. However, some insurers have extended the deadline to Jan. 10. Check with your health insurance company to be sure.

And if you haven’t already found a plan, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day may be a good, down week to check out HealthCare.gov or otherwise research your options. While you have until March 31 to enroll in a plan through the government exchanges, life is bound to get busy again once we roll into 2014. (See: “Finally! I’ve Purchased Health Insurance Through Obamacare.”)

2. Buy that car, boat or other large toy

Have your eye on a new ride? You might want to hop to it. Not only do some auto manufacturers issue year-end rebates and incentives to clear out older models, salespeople might be motivated to wheel and deal as they try to meet their monthly sales quotas or goals.

Perhaps even more important is that the sales tax deduction could be going away in 2014. Right now, you can deduct either your state and local income taxes or sales tax on your federal income tax form. However, the sales tax deduction is sunsetting this year, which means you may want to make your large purchase – whether it is a car, boat or manufactured house – now so you can get the deduction. Of course, Congress could decide to extend it next year, but if it doesn’t, you’ll miss out.

Finally, you need to act quickly if you are considering an electric plug-in car such as the Ford Focus Electric or the Nissan Leaf. Tax credits of up to $7,500 for electric vehicles are also set to expire on Dec. 31.

3. Bulk up on small-business assets … and hire a veteran while you’re at it

For the small-business owners in the crowd, you may want to look at your equipment needs for the coming year and make whatever purchases you can now.

In 2013, small businesses can deduct up to $500,000 of the cost of assets such as software, furniture and other business equipment. The deduction is available for both new and used items, but your business must be producing a taxable income and you must put the purchase in service this year. In other words, buy it and install it ASAP.

You can still get the deduction in 2014, but it drops to a maximum of $25,000. If your budget allows and you have a major expansion on the horizon, buy what you can while the bigger deduction is available.

Small-business owners should also know that the Work Opportunity Tax Credit is another incentive set to expire in the next week. This program gives businesses tax credits of up to $9,600 for hiring qualified workers such as veterans. Hires made on or before Dec. 31 are eligible. Talk to your accountant for more details about this credit and the equipment deduction.

4. Purchase energy-efficient upgrades to your house

Since 2006, homeowners have been able to claim a $500 tax credit for making energy-efficient upgrades to their homes. The credit is equal to 10 percent of the cost of the building materials, so you need to spend $5,000 to receive the maximum credit. That’s not chump change, but if you were already planning to replace windows or add insulation, you might as well get some money back from Uncle Sam for it.

However, time is running out on the credit. If you haven’t already claimed your $500 in a previous tax year, you have until Dec. 31 to buy the building materials. Then, the credit is history unless Congress has second thoughts about letting it expire.

5. Invest in a budgeting tool

Last year, nearly half of Americans made financial resolutions. Those could have included getting out of debt, padding a savings account or trimming unnecessary expenses.

If you are one of those making financial resolutions, you need to invest in a system that will help you track your money and, in turn, measure your progress toward goals. And by invest, I don’t necessarily mean money. It might only take an investment of time in setting up the right system.

Here at Money Talks News, we are partial to PowerWallet, which is a free financial tool. However, you can certainly buy a software program like Quicken, create your own Excel spreadsheet, or even go old school with a notebook and pen. What’s important is to have something in place before the 2014 bills start piling up.

As our name says, money talks. But without a financial plan, the only thing it will say to you is “You’re broke.” Make it a priority to purchase or sign up for a budget tool before you pop the champagne on New Year’s Eve.

Stacy Johnson

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