Recover from disaster. Many people are underinsured, and disasters as widespread as Superstorm Sandy or as local as a house fire or burglary can leave victims facing huge bills. Uncle Sam feels your pain and offers the chance to write off such casualty and theft losses. If you had insurance, you must have filed a claim, and you can't deduct any expenses that were reimbursed.

If your loss was from a federally declared disaster, you get an additional potential benefit. You're allowed to amend the previous year's tax return to include your casualty loss deduction. That can get you a refund in the same year you experienced the disaster. Otherwise, you can claim it the next year. For more information, read Publication 547.

Get credit for working. This is a refundable credit, which means you can get money back even if you don't owe any federal taxes. The credit was designed to provide an incentive to work for low- and moderate-income families. The maximum credit ranges from $475 for low-income people with no kids to $5,891 for families with three or more children.

The big problem with the Earned Income Tax Credit is that it can be mind-numbingly complex to figure out if you qualify.

"I'm just shocked that people don't know they can take it," said Jennifer MacMillan, an enrolled agent in Santa Barbara, Calif. "But people take a look at that (IRS) worksheet and say, 'nope.' "

To get the credit, your earned income and your AGI in 2012 have to be less than certain amounts:

  • If you have three or more qualifying children, your earned income and your AGI must be less than $45,060 for singles or $50,270 married filing jointly
  • If you have two or more qualifying children, the limits are $41,952 for singles or $47,162 married filing jointly
  • With one qualifying child, the limits are $36,920 or $42,130 married filing jointly
  • No kids? Your AGI and earned income must be under $13,980 single, $19,190 married filing jointly

The IRS has an "EITC Assistant" that can help you determine if you qualify. Tax preparation software or a tax pro can assist you with the calculations, as well.

Get help with education costs. There is both a credit and a deduction that can help offset the costs of higher education, but you can only use one, so choose wisely.

First, check out the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can reduce your taxes by as much as $2,500 per undergraduate. Unlike other education credits, this one applies to all qualifying educational expenses, including tuition, books, materials and supplies, Jeanguenat says.

"Although this credit is not new or unknown, I think it is one of the best credits out there right now, and was just extended through 2017," Jeanguenat said. "Up to 40% of the credit is refundable, meaning that it will apply first to any tax, and then any credit remaining will be refunded. (That's) a pretty good return on your investment."

The American Opportunity credit applies to all four years of undergraduate college education. The credit is gradually reduced (or "phased out") for income from $80,000 to $90,000 (or $160,000 to $180,000 for joint filers).

Another tax break to explore is the Lifetime Learning Credit, which offers up to $2,000 per tax return and includes graduate as well as undergraduate education. The student needn't be full time.

"You can take a golf class at a community college and get a credit for 20% of the cost," MacMillan noted.

If you don't qualify for either, you may still be able to deduct up to $4,000 if your AGI isn't more than $80,000 ($160,000 for a joint return). The education credit is an above-the-line deduction, so you don't have to itemize to get it.

Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education, has all the details. 

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Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.