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11 Ways to Save on Your Finances

Tax deductions, credits can add up and put money back in your pocket

En español  |  1. Free tax prep. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, in partnership with the IRS, offers counseling at thousands of locations during tax filing season. Certified volunteers help low- to middle-income filers, with special attention to 60-plus. To find a site near you, call 1-888-227-7669 toll-free or check online.

2. Retirement tips. Join free webinars on for information on retirement planning, Social Security and ways to cut daily expenses.

3. Tax trap. IRS-required annual distributions from a 401(k) plan usually start the year you turn 70-1/2. You can defer that first payout until April 1 of the next year, but watch out. The next distribution is due by Dec. 31, and the double payout could put you in a higher tax bracket.

4. Did you know? When you charge charitable donations to your credit card, the bank "swipe fee" may be 3 percent. Debit cards and PayPal take a smaller cut. Capital One offers fee-free donations to nonprofits on its Giving Site. Or send a check.

5. Bodyworks. Donating your body for medical research serves science and might save you money. Some facilities that accept donations provide a free cremation. Check out "body donation programs" maintained by the University of Florida State Anatomical Board. Other places to check: Anatomy Gifts Registry (Md.) and BannerSun Health Research Institute (Ariz.).

6. Yo, homeowners! See whether these steps will reduce your home insurance premiums: Raise your deductible. Buy auto insurance from the same company. Install an alarm system, dead bolt locks or other security device. Turn 55, or retire. Remind them you haven't made a claim in 10 years.

7. Bond check. Find out what your old U.S. savings bonds are worth at Enter the series, denomination, serial number and issue date for the value, which you can then cash out (with proper ID) at your bank.

8. Media mail. The USPS offers a special mail rate for books, film, printed music, CDs and DVDs. For example, a 1-pound package from Maryland to New Mexico costs $5.60 for parcel post, but only $2.47 for "media mail."

9. Pay yourself. When you do something you might have paid for — such as vacuuming, ironing, making your own latte — put the "cost" in a jar. The money adds up fast.

10. If you take money out of your 401(k), IRA or other tax-deferred retirement account before you're 59-1/2, you may be hit with a triple whammy: income tax, a 10 percent penalty and reduced growth in your account.

11. College prep site. Get information on college loans and an estimate of your child's postgraduation debt on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new website, Coming soon: comparison costs of tuition and room and board.

Contributors to 99 Great Ways to Save 2012: Arthur Dalglish, Cathie Gandel, Joan Rattner Heilman, Sid Kirchheimer, Jason L. Lawrence, Marsha Mercer, Geoff Williams, Jeff Yeager and AARP members like you.