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How to pay less tax on '12 return

OK, you've filed your federal income tax return and put it away with your other important documents.

Not so fast. Your tax return is a valuable road map to future savings.

"Americans often only look at whether or not they will receive a tax refund, but most could be more financially secure if they spent tax season looking to the other 70 or so lines of the 1040 form for planning ideas and strategies," said Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. "If Americans broadened their focus they could discover savings in their tax returns that go well beyond last year's refund."

Here are some steps you can take:

*Adjust your total income (line 22) on 1040 tax return -- Taxpayers should consider which income sources are discretionary in terms of timing, amount or taxable nature.

For example, most people have some control over when to sell stock and take capital gains or losses. So if you expect Congress won't extend the Bush tax cuts before they expire at the end of the year and you have a stock you've been wanting to sell, you might consider doing so now.

Another reason to consider selling now: The current 15 percent rate on long-term capital gains will rise to 20 percent after 2012.

"Portfolio allocation will also affect the amount of taxable interest and dividends a person has," Blayney said. "Until a person reaches 70 1/2 years old, he or she has discretion over the amount taken from an IRA."

When you reach 70 1/2 , the IRS requires you to start taking a minimum distribution out of your traditional IRA and 401(k). That amount is determined by an IRS formula.

*Lower your tax refund (line 73): While you may view your tax refund as forced savings, it really is an interest-free loan to the government that you could have put to better use.

So have less money taken out of your paycheck for taxes.

"A refund-to-total income ratio higher than 10 percent is an indication that it's probably time to adjust withholdings or estimated payments to reduce the ratio," Blayney said.

*Reduce your taxable income (line 43): Contributions to a traditional IRA or a health savings account are tax-deductible. But the HSA has to be linked to an approved high-deductible insurance plan.

*Delay itemized deductions (line 40) -- You may want to hold off on large charitable deductions or medical and dental expenses until 2013 when tax rates may be higher.

*Convert traditional IRA to Roth IRA -- Converting a tax-deferred retirement account, such as a traditional IRA, to a Roth IRA might be worth doing now if you expect tax rates to rise. You would pay taxes on the conversion at today's lower rates.