Investors and advisors often turn to tax planning only during the fourth quarter, but such tunnel vision may prove to be a mistake in 2012.

Unless Congress takes action before year-end, the 2001 Bush tax cuts will expire on December 31-pushing the top income tax rate in 2013 up to 39.6% (from 35%); the rate on long-term capital gains to 20% (from 15%); and eliminating the preferential 15% rate on qualified dividends altogether. In addition, a 3.8% surtax on investment income in excess of $200,000 will take effect in 2013.

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