LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

On Jan. 1 the Bush-Era tax cuts expire, which means almost all Americans are in for a substantial tax increase.

But how do you come up with a good financial plan if you don't know whether Congress will come up with a deal to prevent the tax hike?

Financial experts said step one is don't panic.

Washington's inability to come up with a deal is leaving many Americans in a lurch when it comes to preparing financially for 2013.

"There's this uncertainty so no one can plan ahead, whether it be for taxes or for investments or for benefits, so there's too much that's unknown," said Tom Brewer, managing principal at Brewer Investment Group.

While it's nerve-wracking not to know what to expect, financial experts said there are a few things you can do to be prepared, starting with something as simple as staying calm.

"It's too premature to get panic stricken over what it's going to look like," said CPA William Collins of Collins and Associates.

"Once again you have to not panic," said Brewer.

Secondly, prepare for the highest possible tax increase should we go over the so called fiscal cliff.

"It's conceivable in my mind I've been advising my clients that they should plan on about a 5 percent increase in your taxes," said Collins.

Also, make any changes to your investments you can now that take advantage of the lower 2012 tax rates.

"If there are strategies your tax adviser is recommending we recommend you do it this year. The capital gains rate is going to go from 15 percent up to 20 percent so if there are stocks in your portfolio that you're looking to sell consult your tax adviser. Now might be the year to implement that change in 2012," said Brewer.

Finally, it's a good idea to hang on to more cash and steer clear of the traditionally safe investment options.

"In the past people have bought up government debt, government treasury bills and treasury bonds, but once again with the low interest rate and uncertainty those are not your safest investments right now," said Brewer.

It's important to remember that if Congress doesn't come up with a deal by the first, they can still come up with a plan in the following months and make it retroactive, which basically means it will apply for all of 2013.

Further complicating the tax situation is a series of tax breaks that have to be re-approved every year.

Because of all the fiscal cliff negotiations, accountants said they're not sure the breaks that are usually passed every year will be re-instated for 2012 taxes.

These include the educator deduction, the tuition deduction, the sales tax credit and the alternative minimum tax credit.

Financial experts recommend you check in with your tax adviser to make sure you know what tax credits you can count on when filing this April.