NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As we count off the final days of 2014, it might be wise for taxpayers to take last-minute steps now to lower the amount they'll have to fork over to Uncle Sam in April. Tax-loss selling, charitable donations, and IRA and Roth IRA contributions are among the moves that can shrink that bloated tax bill. But many of these tax-lowering steps must be taken before the ball drops on New Year's Eve. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks Taxable accounts need the most scrutiny, said Dan Neiman, partner and portfolio manager at Neiman Funds and investment advisory firm, Independent Solutions Wealth Management, which have more than $400 million in assets under management. Start by examining the account's short-term and long-term gains and losses for the year. "Find out what their long-term and short-term capital gains consequences have been for the year so far," he said. "Some people pay attention to those things through the year and some don't." If there are losses, then this is an opportunity to take profits by selling shares in some high-flying stocks or mutual funds without facing a tax burden. "A lot of people are afraid of the tax consequence, but if you've had a good year and met your goals and have some tax losses, then there's no harm in taking some of those profits," said Neiman. If the investor is already facing capital gains, then it might be wise to sell some of the duds. For retail investors, this decision is sometimes tough. Must Read: 12 Stocks Warren Buffett Loves in 2014 "You can't look at something you bought for $60 -- and it's down to $50 -- and try to hold on to it until it goes back to $60" if the fundamentals don't support it, said Neiman. The person must assess the situation objectively: Is it more likely this stock will bounce back 20% in the next year or can I get that kind of gain by investing in another stock or mutual fund? This is where the investor has to look at the stock without emotion and bite the bullet. If there is potential in the beaten-down stock, then don't sell. Instead, buy more on the cheap. Neiman said he bought Chevron at $115 a share in early October and woke up the day after Thanksgiving to see the stock at $108. "There was an opportunity to buy more," he said. "I like the oil stocks as a fundamental value play for their dividend, long-term potential growth in earnings, and low debt -- so when they're off 5 or 6 percent, I'm a buyer." Also, carry-forward losses from last year can also help to offset gains. Investors can also use tax-loss selling to rebalance a portfolio heading in to 2015 by selling off the losers and reinvesting the money into stocks and funds that offer more prospective growth. It's critical though that the person assess a stock's potential before selling it. "You may be missing some upside because of the 30-day wash sale rule," said Neiman. Under the wash sale rule, an investor, who sells a stock to take a loss, cannot buy back that stock for 30 days. Then there are the tax surprises. Perhaps a year-end bonus comes in higher than expected. Or maybe a mutual fund announces an unexpected year-end capital gains distribution or a company decides to issue a special dividend -- all of which could push the taxpayer up into the next tax bracket. Yikes! Must Read: 10 Stocks Carl Icahn Loves in 2014 This is particularly common in a bull market, said Neiman. "Any fund that's heavy into tech or any fund that's gone up quite a bit and beaten the market averages, there may be some large capital gains taken in that fund that may cause a big distribution." Investors can find these potential tax landmines by inquiring about year-end bonuses early and by looking up dividend and capital gains distribution announcements made by each company and fund in their portfolios. History is not always the best indicator. Some mutual funds, such as Putnam Voyager Fund and T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth Fund , will be making capital-gains distributions before year-end for the first time in many years. So re-examine this issue each year even if a portfolio has not changed much. Charitable donations is another tax burner. Donations to registered charities can be done through cash, clothing, furniture, cars or even shares of stock. There are advantages to donating stock that's seen big gains. The donation is credited at the current value, not at the cost-basis level. So, the person enjoys the large donation without having to pay the capital gains on it, said Neiman. Making contributions to an IRA, Roth or other retirement account is another easy way to lower taxable income. Generally, people have until tax-filing day in April to make the contributions. Still, Neiman advises people to look at all of these tax steps earlier rather than later. "Don't wait until Dec. 30," he cautions. "Take a look at the performance now and what they've done for the year, and review your goals and what you're trying to accomplish for years to come." Must Read: 7 Stocks Warren Buffett Is Selling in 2014 At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage. TheStreet Ratings team rates CHEVRON CORP as a Hold with a ratings score of C+. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation: "We rate CHEVRON CORP (CVX) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed ? some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its increase in net income, attractive valuation levels and largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including disappointing return on equity, weak operating cash flow and a generally disappointing performance in the stock itself." You can view the full analysis from the report here: CVX Ratings ReportClick to view a price quote on CVX. Click to research the Energy industry.
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Search Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" trading recommendations using our exclusive "Mad Money" Stock Screener. NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- So far, this earnings season has been a good one, Jim Cramer said onaMad MoneyaFriday. That's why Cramer expects next week will be more of the same, with individual corporate earnings taking center stage. On Monday, Cramer said he'll be watching the earnings from Merck , a stock that could lift the old-line drug makers. Also on Cramer's radar will be Twitter , a stock he owns for his charitable trust, Action Alerts PLUS, and Buffalo Wild Wings , two long-term faves. Must Read: 12 Stocks Warren Buffett Loves in 2014 Tuesday brings a host of earnings from DuPont , Parker-Hannifin , Facebook , another Action Alerts PLUS name, Gilead Sciences , Panera Bread and McKesson . Cramer is bullish on DuPont, Parker-Hannifin, Gilead and McKesson but advised trimming positions in Facebook and waiting until after earnings to buy into Panera. Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Federal Reserve, Cramer said, but he'll be watching Wellpoint , a big beneficiary of Obamacare. Thursday earnings include Starbucks and GoPro . Cramer said he'd buy into Starbucks ahead of earnings but admitted that GoPro, while a great long-term story, is pricey at current levels. Finally, on Friday, it's Chevron and Exxon Mobil reporting. Cramer said both of these oil giants will offer an honest read on where oil prices are likely headed. Sell Palo Alto Networks Sometimes when you have a big winner, it's time to declare victory and go home, Cramer told viewers. That's the case with Palo Alto Networks , a stock that Cramer said it's now time to sell, sell, sell. Cramer had been a backer of Palo Alto ever since its initial public offering, a full 158% ago. While he still feels that cybersecurity is a big business and Palo Alto is the best-of-breed player in that business, at $108 a share the stock has simply gotten too pricey. Palo Alto now trades at 100 times earnings, and Cramer reminded viewers they should never pay more than twice a company's growth rate, which in this case is 42%. But the big yellow flag for Cramer was a surge in insider selling, to the tune of $450 million. Insiders sell for a variety of reasons, Cramer said, but $450 million is a lot for any company. Palo Alto also issued $500 million of convertible bonds back in June at a strike price of $110 share. With the stock now just two points from that level, Cramer said it's very likely that many of those shares will convert to stock, diluting current shareholders. Add to that the fact that there are no analysts with a sell recommendation on Palo Alto and only four with holds, so the stock is now priced for perfection, Cramer concluded -- which is why it's time to ring the register before it hits $110. Must Read: 6 Things Wall Street Should Be Embracing About Social Media Profit With PAY When Apple went live with its Apple Pay service this past Monday, it kicked off a revolution in the way Americans pay for goods and services, Cramer told viewers. The best way to profit from this revolution, he said, will be with VeriFone . While Apple Pay may be getting all the headlines, Cramer said the real push behind the payment revolution is an October 2015 deadline, set by the major payment processors, to require retailers to accept both NFC contactless payments and EMV cards with built-in chips like those popular overseas. The penalty for not accepting these 21st century payments will put retailers on the hook for any fraud that occurs after the deadline. As an additional incentive, Cramer noted there will likely be 70 million Apple Pay-enabled iPhones sold in the next two years, nearly twice the number of American Express cards in the U.S. While only 30% of all U.S. terminals are currently EMV-enabled, that number should jump to 70% by 2016. With VeriFone the market leader, Cramer said this company should grow like a weed. Cramer said he expects shares to reach $42.50 a share, or a 24% gain from current levels, but he would not be surprised to see earnings accelerate, taking shares to $48 for a 40% gain. Executive Decision: Angel Martinez For his "Executive Decision" segment, Cramer spoke with Angel Martinez, chairman, president and CEO of Deckers Brands , which delivered a 14-cents-a-share earnings beat on a 24% uptick in sales, yet shares fell 7.4% on an otherwise up day on Wall Street. Martinez said he's perplexed by the market's reaction to a very strong quarter. He said the company's guidance remains for 15% revenue growth. Despite some of the media reports, that's not a downgrade from earlier forecasts. Martinez continued that Deckers has its most diverse product line ever and all of the newer items have been very well received. While the company was very dependent on the classics three or four years ago, that's not the case today. Cramer said it's very rare to get a discount on a quality company going into itsaprime selling season, but that's exactly what just happened. Must Read: Jack Bogle on Warren Buffett, Bill Gross and How to Invest in a Volatile Market Lightning Round In the Lightning Round, Cramer was bullish on Southern Company , BioDelivery Sciences and Plains All American Pipeline . Cramer was bearish on NewLink Genetics and Home Loan Servicing . No Huddle Offense In his "No Huddle Offense" segment, Cramer said if the market is going to take a hit with every Ebola diagnosis, be prepared for lots more dips. Cramer said as long as there is no quarantine for health care workers returning from affected areas, or at least a registry of those returning, there will likely be more people contracting Ebola here in the U.S. It's totally possible that we will have an effective vaccine for Ebola in 2015, Cramer continued, but research takes time and there will be no magic bullet anytime soon. That means investors must accept that we live in a world where Ebola is out there and it may, occasionally, interrupt the status quo. Must Read: 30 Things More Likely to Happen to You Than Getting Ebola To watch replays of Cramer's video segments, visit the Mad Money page on CNBC. To sign up for Jim Cramer's free Booyah! newsletter with all of his latest articles and videos please click here. -- Written by Scott Rutt in Washington, D.C. To email Scott about this article, click here: Scott Rutt Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottRutt or get updates on Facebook, ScottRuttDCClick to view a price quote on MRK. 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Search Jim Cramer's "Mad Money" trading recommendations using our exclusive "Mad Money" Stock Screener. (This program originally aired on June 24, 2014.) NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- These are confusing times for the stock market, Jim Cramer told his "Mad Money" audience. There's always somebody telling you to do exactly the opposite of what you should really be doing. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks But Cramer said it's not about sounding smart, it's about getting it right -- what to buy, what to sell, what direction the market's headed. "You get those things right, and it's a heck of a lot easier to make money in this or any market," Cramer said. By doing your homework, "you just might learn something that will make you a better investor," he said, and a better investor is one who makes more money, "because that's the goal here." Cramer said he and Stephanie Link, the research director of Cramer's charitable portfolio, Action Alerts PLUS, recently went back over every trade AAP made over the last five years. Here's what Cramer has learned. Caterpillar had been going down for weeks on end as analysts raced to cut their estimates ahead of what looked to be a particularly bad quarter, Cramer said. The analysts had turned bearish after CAT's business globally took huge hits because customers were struggling to get credit for new machines. This was at the depth of the Great Recession. When Caterpillar finally reported, the quarter turned out to be even uglier than the analysts had predicted. But CAT's stock barely reacted to the bad news. "That's a classic sign that you're looking at a bottom," Cramer said. "The worst is over!" CAT roared and then rose. It may seem counter-intuitive to buy a stock right after the estimates have been slashed, but when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. JPMorgan Chase is another example of this, Cramer said. It seemed done for after its "London Whale" trading fiasco of 2012. However, just like Caterpillar in March of 2009, JPMorgan's stock didn't get hit after analysts cut estimates. Instead, it flat-lined and then actually inched up slightly. Once we learned JPMorgan's losses were contained at $6 billion, that was the moment we had to buy, Cramer said. If you did, you rode a huge rally. Coming Back for Secondaries Everybody makes a mistake sometimes, Cramer said. But if you want to become a great investor you don't just need to learn from your mistakes, you need to learn how to recognize what your mistakes actually are and notice what works. Must Read: Here Are 20 Stocks That Could Buck the Odds and Do Well in October "We're full of all sorts of unconscious biases, and that can make it incredibly difficult to learn from experience," Cramer said. Think empirically, he said. After analyzing the last five years' worth of trades as part of his research for Get Rich Carefully, his latest book, Cramer came to another counterintuitive realization: Stop worrying and learn to love secondary stock offerings. Cramer said we're all conditioned to believe that when a company issues new stock it's bad news for shareholders. When a company does a secondary, it tends to weigh on the stock for a time. But these days that totally reasonable fear of secondaries is also a mistake, Cramer said, because interest rates are still low by historical standards. For example, real estate investment trusts have done a huge number of these kinds of secondaries, and those deals have worked fabulously for investors. You can find these deals in all sorts of companies that were hit hard by the housing crash, said Cramer. They're now snapping back, like mortgage insurance companies, a group that had pretty much been left for dead. Cramer mentioned how investors could have made a killing on Radian if they had listened to his buy call in February. Cramer also likes the secondary offerings from master limited partnerships, the oil and gas pipeline players that are always issuing stock to finance their expansion plans to crisscross the country with pipelines. Enterprise Products Partners , Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and MarkWest are the best-of-breed players here, and they've become serial issuers of equity to expand their pipeline networks. These companies can be risky if interest rates are rising, Cramer warned, but if rates are stable you should jump all over their secondaries. The bottom line, Cramer said: Forget the conventional wisdom that says a secondary stock offering always means a company is in trouble. Know When to Fold 'Em Like "The Gambler" of song, Cramer has some suggestions for when you should fold your positions or even run. "When it comes to picking stocks, cash is not always king," he said. In fact, if you buy a stock just because it's sitting on a mountain of cash, you could get crushed. Think about it, Cramer said: What do Cisco , Microsoft , Oracle and Intel all have in common? People were lulled into buying their stocks at very high levels simply because they had so much cash on their books, as if cash per se is always good news. What really matters is how companies put that cash to work. Cash can been wasted on undisciplined buybacks -- when you see a company doing that, you should pass on its stock and walk away, Cramer said. Must Read: 5 Semiconductor Stocks Delivering Big Shareholder Profits Now Contrast this with one of the best performing stocks in the S&P 500 since the generational bottom in 2009, Wyndham Worldwide , run by Steve Holmes, one of the most shareholder-friendly CEOs out there today. Holmes buys back stock aggressively and when it makes a difference, particularly during those ravaging downturns when most other CEOs seem frozen. Holmes thinks it is his duty to return his company's excess cash to the shareholders via dividends, Cramer said. He's the model of what Intel, Microsoft and Cisco need at the helm. Here's another sign that you should fold. If you own shares in a company that starts blaming its customers for its own poor performance, it's time to walk away. "I learned this the hard way when my charitable trust decided to buy Juniper Networks , the maker of networking and communication equipment, back in 2011," said Cramer. Juniper encountered shortfalls and blamed a lack of Japanese orders in the wake of the tsunami and Fukushimi Daiichi nuclear disaster. But the stock continued to drop. He stuck with Juniper because the company had a ton of cash. Oops. Juniper's blame-the-customer act was a lame alibi, Cramer said. It turns out Cisco was taking market share the whole time and simply kicking Juniper's butt with a better mousetrap. There's a pretty simple moral here: When a company blames the customer, check to see whether the customer isn't actually still buying from a different vendor. Beyond EPS A huge part of this business is figuring out where a given stock is headed, said Cramer. That isn't always easy. Most stocks, most of the time, trade on their earnings-per-share numbers. When the earnings are headed lower, so is the stock; when the earnings go higher, the stock rallies, too. But for some industries, earnings are not the most important metric, said Cramer. If the only thing you're watching is the earnings per share, you could end up getting clobbered or missing some fabulous opportunities. Watch the key metrics for everything you own. For example, Cramer said, when it comes to oil companies, production growth is key. For many tech stocks, it's the average selling price of their products. In these two sectors, those metrics are more important that anything related to beating the earnings estimates. Devon Energy sagged due to production shortfalls, not earnings per share; Chevron rallied with lower earnings and higher production growth. Another mea culpa: Cramer admitted he totally missed the bottom for Micron MU, the semiconductor company that makes memory chips, back at the end of 2012. Micron's stock had been a dog for more than a decade. But then the stock jumped higher. "What did I miss?" Cramer asked. DRAMs, or dynamic random access memory chips, had a nice bump up in their average selling prices during the quarter. DRAM business had been so horrible for so long that many companies in the industry had simply given up, Cramer said. So supply had become constrained. Micron's been off to the races ever since, more than tripling from December 2012 to December 2013. Must Read: Can These 22 New Restaurant Foods and Drinks Feed Investors Too? One last metric to note, said Cramer: when a company is based in the United States but does a lot of business in emerging markets, particularly China. One of the best buys his charitable trust ever made was picking up Yum! Brands , the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, off a sudden decline in Chinese sales because of a KFC tainted-chicken scandal, Cramer said. While Yum! is a worldwide outfit, the growth is in China. So when the Chinese KFC division had a shortfall, the stock got clocked, Cramer said. Soon after, Yum! let it be known that its earnings would be slashed as it boosted its Chinese advertising. You had to buy the stock on that shortfall, said Cramer. Not long after, YUM's Chinese business began to turn and the stock headed right back up to its 52-week high. KFC's sales growth in China is more important to Yum!'s stock than the actual reported earnings of the entire chain. As much as we'd like to keep things simple and just focus on the earnings per share, sometimes the truly important metrics can elude us if we don't keep our eyes on the ball, Cramer said. Anybody who waited for revenue growth to kick in missed the whole move since 2009. Some so-called experts tell you to wait for revenue to roar, but they've kept you out of some of the best stocks out there, he warned. Earnings are not always all-important. Let It Ride Finally, Cramer said, if you have a core holding in your portfolio, a high-quality stock with terrific prospects that you want to own for the long haul, don't sell it at the first little gain or the first sign of turbulence. If you really have conviction in a stock, you need to let it ride, Cramer said, because it is a core holding and want to own it through thick and thin. If you don't follow through with that, he said, it's almost always a big mistake. The temptation to take a gain is palpable. It's a difficult task to keep a fabulous stock riding in your portfolio, because you never want to let a gain turn into a loss. If you own a stock and you think it could go up over the next few years, then by all means keep it, Cramer said. But all bets are off if the business starts to deteriorate. What makes him so sure of this rule? Cramer said his trust rates stocks on a scale of 1 to 4 every week. Those rated 1 are, by and large, meant to be core positions, and he wants as many shares as he can get. However, looking back over the last five years he found it unnerving to see how many of these 1 stocks the trust sold because of short-term market turbulence, only for the stocks to continue roaring ahead. Must Read: 10 Best Apple Products Ever A core position is what it says it is: something that's integral to your portfolio. It should not be so easily dislodged, he said. Resist the urge to sell your franchise players, no matter how tempting it may be. To watch replays of Cramer's video segments, visit the Mad Money page on CNBC. To sign up for Jim Cramer's free Booyah! newsletter with all of his latest articles and videos please click here.Click to view a price quote on CAT. Click to research the Industrial industry.