It may be hard for some of you to believe, but this past weekend marked the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2011, and to me that signals a time to make sure that you've done everything that you can to button down any loose issues before the ball drops in Times Square only 90 days from now.

It may be hard for some of you to believe, but this past weekend marked the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2011, and to me that signals a time to make sure that you've done everything that you can to button down any loose issues before the ball drops in Times Square only 90 days from now.


This is the ideal time to take a look at your 2011 tax situation, to make sure that you have done whatever you can to plan how the return will look next April. 


The best way to do this is to whip out a copy of your 2010 return, and add a column to the right of the numbers and begin to put in your estimates for what shall go on each line for 2011.


Of course, for the do-it-yourselfers using software, most programs will have a tax planning module to help with this. 


For some things, like income, interest or Social Security income, the estimates should be pretty darn accurate.  For other matters, there is some discretion and control that you may exercise.


You still have time to direct what gets reported with respect to capital gains and losses, retirement plan distributions, and a host of other matters that can make a huge difference in 2011 income tax bill.


In most years, the common year-end tax plan is to defer income and to accelerate deductions. However, this year, with spending cuts and tax increases getting tossed around Congress like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball, maybe this is a year to think differently.  And that counterintuitive thinking may be to accelerate your income this year under the theory that you'll be in a higher tax bracket next year.


You may consider Roth conversions, creating capital gains, taking distributions from retirement plans, changing your 401(k) contribution to a Roth 401(k) contribution and deferring deductible expenses until after Jan. 1, 2012.


Roth conversions can be extremely valuable to taxpayers who have a very long time until retirement or to wealthy families who may never need to dip into their retirement accounts to sustain their lifestyle. For retirees, ask yourself if you should take more than the minimum distributions from your retirement accounts.  For high wage earners who are contributing to a 401(k), using the Roth feature within the plan will certainly raise your tax bill this year. 


John P. Napolitano is the CEO of U.S. Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass. He may be reached at jnap@uswealthcompanies.com.