The top of the year-end checklist typically includes making certain to send a donation to a favorite charity by Dec. 31.
But this year, frankly, some accountants say you don't want to make those donations until January -- if you're betting on higher tax rates in 2013.
But what about grabbing some money from an IRA? Will you or an older family member withdraw the entire required minimum distribution from your IRA by Dec. 31? This is one where you don't want to drag your feet.
Every year, many investors miss the deadline for making sure to receive the required withdrawals from their IRAs, said Ken Hevert, vice president of personal retirement products for Fidelity. It can really get complicated, Hevert said.
The issue isn't just that you're missing out on getting extra money to cover bills. You could be creating a very costly tax headache, too, if you miss the deadline.
Retirees age 70 1/2 and older must follow required distribution rules when it comes to IRAs. The same can apply to a 401(k) if you're retired and no longer working at the company.
Typically, investors who must take required minimum distributions have until Dec. 31 each year to withdraw the full amount.
But if you turned 70 1/2 in 2012, you'd have until April 1, 2013, to take that required first distribution, and you'd have to take one for 2013 as well.
The distribution is calculated based on life expectancy and how much retirement savings you've built up.
IRA experts say the Internal Revenue Service is aware of growing noncompliance with IRA distribution requirements, too, and is expected to crack down further to capture losses in tax revenue.
This issue becomes more important as baby boomers age and move further into retirement years. The required minimum distribution can boost your taxable income in a given year.
The required minimum distribution rules do not apply to Roth IRAs. There is no age limit for when distributions must take place with Roth IRAs.
Various calculators and financial planners can work with you to figure out distributions. Fidelity offers a calculator online at https://web.fidelity.com/mrd/application/MRDCalculator.
For example, if you're 71 now and had $100,000 in an IRA as of December 2011, the required minimum distribution could be $3,773.58 in 2012, depending on your situation.
Hevert said about half of Fidelity's IRA customers set up a system with the firm in which Fidelity automatically sends the required minimum distribution. But about half make sure to take those distributions on their own.
Yet time can go by and you forget to do what's necessary.
As of Dec. 9, just under half of Fidelity's more than a half a million IRA customers who are required to take distributions for 2012 had not yet taken the full amount.
Granted, many may plan to do so in December -- but others can forget.
The rules can be extremely confusing, too.
Pay special attention if you took a lump sum from your pension plan. Retirees from General Motors, Ford and others who traded in monthly pension checks for lump sum distributions - and then rolled that money into IRAs will need to watch the distribution rules as well.
Older retirees who took lump sums from pension plans will be thankful to know, though, that the required minimum distributions for 2012 won't be based on any new money that was rolled into the IRA this year.
The required distribution is based on the previous year's balance. Your 2013 distribution will be based on the Dec. 31, 2012, balance, said Ed Slott, an IRA expert with the website IRAHelp.com.
And there are other factors to consider if you've inherited an IRA from Mom or Dad or a beloved aunt or uncle.
If you inherit an IRA from Mom or Dad - not your spouse - you do not have until age 70 1/2 to wait to take out money. Say Dad died at 79 in 2011 and his daughter Mary is 50 and is the beneficiary. Mary has until the end of 2012 in this example to take the required minimum distribution.
If you forget to take a required minimum distribution, the tax penalty is steep: 50 percent of the difference of what you should have taken out and what you took out.
But it is possible to correct the problem by filing a Form 5329 Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts. You'd request a waiver of the 50 percent penalty.
If you should have withdrawn $1,000 from that IRA but didn't take out any money, the penalty would be $500.
The form has six pages of instructions. But the IRS can waive part or all of that penalty if you show you made a reasonable mistake and took remedies to make certain to take the required minimum distributions.
Again, though, it's best to avoid the mistake if you can. Make sure to take the required minimum distribution.
• See IRS Publication 590 for rules about IRAs. See IRS.gov.
• Some useful retirement websites: 401kHelpCenter.com and IRAHelp.com.
• If you forget about a distribution, talk to your financial planner or accountant and see Form 5329, Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts. You'd request a waiver of the 50 percent penalty.
• See a Bankrate.com calculator on required distributions at http://tinyurl.com/33n8krr.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stomporfreepress.com.