Read on, dear Fool, if you're wondering, "What's the difference between the 'trade date' and 'settlement date' on my brokerage transaction records?" And "Which one do I use for tax purposes?"

Whenever you place an order to buy or sell a security with your broker, there will be a "trade date" and "settlement date" recorded. The trade date, which is the date that the order was executed, is the one that counts for tax purposes. The settlement date is just the date when the cash or securities from the transaction are plunked into your account.

You're smart to ask a tax question in February, by the way. Too many people ignore taxes completely from May through March -- do that and you risk leaving a lot of tax dollars on the table. To minimize the taxes you fork over to Uncle Sam, you need to keep up with current tax rules and make tax-smart decisions throughout the year. For example, if you're going to sell your house, you might be able to do so tax-free, if you've lived there for two or more years. Fail to learn about this, sell it after living there for 22 months, and you can lose out on some big bucks in savings. There's a similar consideration when selling stocks -- those held for longer than a year qualify for lower long-term capital gains tax rates.

Get the scoop on taxes from the horse's mouth -- the IRS website -- and also at the Fool's Tax Center.

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