IRAs and retirement plans a key part of planning

Make sure that you're taking full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles. Traditional IRAs (assuming that you qualify to make deductible contributions) and employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans allow you to contribute funds pretax, reducing your 2015 taxable income. Contributions you make to a Roth IRA (assuming you meet the income requirements) or a Roth 401(k) aren't deductible, so there's no tax benefit for 2015, but qualified Roth distributions are completely free from federal income tax--making these retirement savings vehicles very appealing.

For 2015, you can contribute up to $17,500 to a 401(k) plan ($23,000 if you're age 50 or older), and up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA ($6,500 if age 50 or older). The window to make 2015 contributions to an employer plan typically closes at the end of the year, while you generally have until the due date of your 2015 federal income tax return to make 2015 IRA contributions.

Required minimum distributions: Once you reach age 70½, you're generally required to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (special rules apply if you're still working and participating in your employer's retirement plan). You have to make the required withdrawals by the date required--the end of the year for most individuals--or a 50% penalty tax applies.

Absent new legislation, 2015 will be the last year that you'll be able to make qualified charitable contributions (QCDs) of up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a qualified charity if you're 70½ or older. Such distributions may be excluded from income and count toward satisfying any RMDs you would otherwise have to receive from your IRA in 2015.