Should you make your January mortgage payment now? (© Corbis)

© Corbis

December is busy. We get it. But don't get so busy that you forget to do one thing: Consider making your next mortgage payment early.

Some borrowers who itemize deductions make their January payment before year's end. "This shifts the interest deduction in those months from next year to this year," explains Jack Guttentag, the Mortgage Professor. "This can be especially advantageous if the borrower expects to be in a lower tax bracket, or expects the tax rate to be lower, next year." (Bing: How low are interest rates right now?)

Here's how it works: You make mortgage payments at the end of each 30-day period you've been in your house or condo. That means that your mortgage bill dated Jan. 1 represents interest for this year — and that means you can put it toward your tax break for 2012.

A few caveats:

  • First, you can only do this for January's interest, according to Bankrate.
  • Second, make sure your payment will be credited as an interest payment for this year, says Eric Tyson, co-author of "Mortgages for Dummies." "I would strongly recommend that you contact the mortgage company by phone," tell them what you want to do and ask how to do it, Tyson says.
  • Third, get your payment in with plenty of time for it to count toward this year. That way, the additional interest will appear on your annual statement, usually a Form 1098 or some federally approved substitute. Remember that Dec. 31 falls on a Monday, and it might even be a good idea to get that payment in before Christmas, just to be safe.
  • When is that extra payment not a good idea? "It wouldn't benefit you if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket next year than you are this year," Guttentag says.

So if you have the money, consider scribbling that extra check. You'll be happier come April 15.

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Other December honey-do's
Take a few hours to tackle these end-of-year chores to really button up your house and garden for winter. When that winter wind blows, you'll be glad you did:

1. Get the house ready for winter.

  • Check and update your home's emergency kit.
  • Walk around your house looking for the beginnings of ice dams in the gutters.
  • Make sure that the water to your outside faucets is shut off inside your house, and the lines are drained. Wrap pipes that pass through unheated spaces.

2. Tuck in the garden.

  • Protect trees and shrubs from winter's worst by staking larger shrubs and trees to protect them from winter winds and covering the trunks of more tender trees in paper wrap.
  • When the ground freezes, put an inch-deep layer of mulch around roses, strawberry plants and perennials.
  • In very cold weather, put a few stakes around the perimeter of tender and early-flowering plants, then drape a cloth covering such as burlap or flannel over each plant without touching its leaves.

3. Don't be landlord to a pest.

  • Now is when mice and rats seek warm refuge. Don't let them.
  • Cockroaches can make a move toward your house come winter. Remove woodpiles from near your house, and inspect any wood before you bring it inside.

The best remodels for your money
Winter is the time when a lot of homeowners start dreaming of spring and summer: remodeling season.  

Slide show:  Which home repairs are the most expensive?

And now could be a better time to remodel than ever, with remodeling costs way down. But which remodels pay off best? Replacing exterior siding, replacing the entry door and adding an attic bedroom top the list of Remodeling Magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report.

(In case you were wondering, here are the three that paid off the least: a home office remodel, a sunroom addition and a backup power generator.)