Some tips on saving taxes, like sending a number to your bank
A recent column discussed some year-end tax strategies. There are, in addition, dozens of ''tips'' that can save taxpayers money and effort. The following short items represent just a few of them:m
Your bank has your number (or it may not). Even though the banks and savings-and-loans won their hard-fought battle against 10 percent withholding on interest payments, they still have to supply the Internal Revenue Service with a ''taxpayer identification number'' for every account. In most cases, this is your social security number. The IRS uses this number to match dividend and interest income you report with numbers on the 1099 forms from your banker, broker, or whoever else is responsible for your investments.
When Congress went along with the repeal-withholding movement, it also took steps to make sure the IRS gets the information it needs. Now, people who do not supply a correct identification number or who the IRS suspects of underreporting interest and dividend income will be subject to a higher withholding, as well as stiff penalties. At the same time, institutions that do not gather all their customers' identification numbers by Dec. 31 will have to pay the cost of getting the rest next year and a $50 fine per account, which they cannnot deduct as a business expense.
So, if you recently received a card with spaces for your social security or other identification number from a banking or investment institution and have not yet filled it out and returned it, do so as soon as you can. Even if the institution already has a number for you on file, it may be asking again to make sure the records are correct and up to date. This is not a new procedure. An identification number has always been required; Congress has just increased the incentives for making sure both sides do their paper work.
Beware of the ''wash sale.'' This is not a bargain on clean clothes; rather it is something many investors try and the IRS frowns upon.
Investors who have seen the price of a stock drop during the year sometimes decide to sell that stock before Dec. 31, so as to qualify for a tax loss. If that is all they do, the IRS has no problem. Some investors get in trouble with the IRS, however, by trying to buy back the security soon after they sold it.