By Pam Reiss

If you’re like most people, you’re waiting until the last minute to file your income tax returns, especially if you owe money to the government. Whether you owe or are getting a refund, if you’re looking for some secret trick to reduce your taxes, that’s not going to happen. But, there are several real ways you may be able to to reduce the amount you pay in taxes, starting this year.

If you haven’t done your homework, you’re probably not taking advantage of tax deductions that may be available to you, which can lower your taxable income and either increase your refund or reduce how much you owe. As long as you kept good financial records, there are a number of deductions you may be able to take.

Of course there’s the standard deduction that most people are eligible for. But, you could also itemize your deductions in lieu of the standard deduction, if your itemized deductions are greater than your standard deduction. Expenses that may qualify as itemized deductions include:

• Charitable contributions – In addition to money or goods donated to charitable organizations, out-of-pocket expenses also qualify. For instance, if you cooked burger cookies for a charity fundraiser, purchased stamps for a school fundraising effort, or drove your car for a charitable or non-profit organization , those expenses and mileage could be deductible.

• Home interest – Homeowners may deduct interest on mortgages, as well as home equity loans and HELOCs, if they were used to improve an existing residence or build a new one.

• Medical expenses – Certain medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income may be deductible as un-reimbursed medical expenses.

• State and local taxes – If you paid state income tax or local property taxes last year, you can take those as a deduction on your federal taxes this year, with limitations.

These are the most common itemized deductions, but there are others, so consult a tax expert, who can either help you understand applicable deductions and whether itemizing makes sense for you or point you to appropriate resources, or direct you to an appropriate resource.

If itemizing doesn’t make sense for you and you take the standard deduction, there are still several “over-the-line” deductions you may be able to take that can deduce your tax burden.

• Student loans – Up to $2,500 of student loan interest may be claimed as an exemption, assuming you meet the criteria.

• IRA contributions – With certain limitations, based on income and other work-sponsored retirements plans, you may be able to deduct your traditional IRA contributions (Roth IRAs are not eligible).

• HSA contributions – Money you put into a healthcare savings account can be used as a tax deduction.

• Self-employment ¬– If you’re self-employed, you may deduct part of your payroll tax, as well as certain contributions to retirement plans health insurance premiums.

• Home office – If you use part of your home regularly and exclusively for business use, you may be able to deduct all or part of your expenses related to that portion of your home.

• Teacher classroom expenses – Full-time K-12 teachers can deduct up to $250 in out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

There are other above-the-line tax deductions, but most have limits or specific criteria that must be met in order to claim them. Also be aware that federal and state tax laws may differ, and you may be eligible for certain deductions under state law that aren’t applicable under federal guidelines. It’s a good idea to consult a tax expert to understand what deductions you can and cannot take. Your bank’s specialists can either answer your questions, or direct you to qualified experts who can.