Only a few things seem clear in all the murk:

Payroll taxes are almost certainly going up. The 2 percentage point cut in Social Security taxes was meant to be temporary, and not even President Barack Obama championed the idea of extending it any further.

An alternative minimum tax fix may be possible. The fix was actually among a bunch of tax provisions that expired last year. There's significant congressional support for extending it, especially since the lack of a fix is now interfering with the 2012 tax filing season, Luscombe said.

Few in Congress like the defense cuts. On both sides of the political aisle, lawmakers are worried about blows to military bases and defense contractors in their districts. Plus, few want to be seen as weakening our national defense.

So what should you do now? You needn't stock up on ammunition and canned goods -- we've survived worse crises than this. But here are some things to consider:

  • The stock market could get more volatile if Congress fails to act in time. That doesn't mean bailing on your stocks. Just get prepared for a bumpy ride.
  • Tax planning is a big question mark. If it were certain that income and investment tax rates were going up, it would make sense to take capital gains now and move as much income into 2012 as possible while delaying deductions. But the only tax hikes that are virtually certain at this point are the expiration of the payroll tax holiday and the imposition of a new 3.8% Medicare tax on the net investment income of high earners. (Read more here: "Know the facts about the new 3.8% tax.") If you're a high earner or have a lot of investment income or a large estate, you should definitely talk to a tax pro before year's end.
  • Your opinion matters. The fiscal cliff has stayed low on the national radar because not enough people have demanded that Congress act. You might want to let your lawmakers know how you feel about the whole mess.

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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.