Year-End Checklist – Steps You Can Take
As the end of the year quickly approaches, it’s a great time to plan for the year ahead. Reviewing items now can pay dividends in the year to come. We’ve put together a list of items to help save time, energy and money in the future. We’ve included a simple checklist to print and use for tracking.
Check Credit Report
Checking your credit report is an easy way to help protect yourself against identity theft. Each year you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). If you’ve already done this for the year, be sure you have a reminder set for next year. And if not, year-end is a great time to do this.
Tracking spending throughout the year helps simplify your year-end budget review process. If you don’t already have a system in place, this isn’t as intimidating as it seems. There are many budget programs to automate this process. Some spending categories are easy to track as they tend to be repetitive (mortgage, car payment, cell phone, etc.). Other categories can be more challenging because they vary in frequency or amount (groceries, entertainment, kids’ items, etc.). Find a system that works for you.
Important data to review from your budget:
Total Year-to-Date Spending
Having a clear picture of where your money actually goes helps you assess any changes that should be made for next year. Reviewing your spending in individual categories can clarify priorities. Comparing your income to your annual expenditures will calculate your annual net income.
Analyze the services and utilities you use. Perhaps there are some you use infrequently or not at all. Or you may have some services that could be replaced with a more economical alternative. For instance, it’s becoming common to eliminate services such as a landline and cable TV.
Review Online Bill Pay & eDelivery Options – Automate/Systematize Budget
Keeping track of bills can require quite a bit of effort. Signing up for online-bill-pay is a great way to manage and automate expenses, allowing you to simplify tracking. However, be sure you are still reviewing transactions regularly. It’s also important to check your credit card rewards to avoid expiration of points.
Plan Next Year Budget/Spending
Anticipating future expenses helps you be better prepared. Reflect on the coming year’s expenses in light of the prior year. Do you expect them to be the same? Do you have upcoming expenses or repairs this year? Maybe there is a new roof, car or a child’s wedding in your future. Now’s a great time to start saving.
It’s a good habit to maintain an emergency fund of a minimum of three months of expenses. If you don’t have an emergency fund or it’s been depleted, budget to rebuild it.
Review Debt Payment Plan
If your budget includes debt, revisit your payoff schedule(s). Mapping a realistic plan to repay it early can yield big savings in the long run. We encourage you to pay-off all discretionary debt as quickly as possible.
Determine Net Worth
Don’t be tempted to skip this step. Calculate your net worth by subtracting your debts from your assets. Comparing your net worth from year-to-year highlights your accomplishments. This may also bring to light changes you might want to make in the new-year.
Start a Folder to Collect Tax Info
Before you know it, tax filing deadlines will be upon us. Organization helps simplify tax time. Put together a folder or binder to collect tax documents as they come in. For an added level of organization, consider creating a personal checklist by listing the documents you use to prepare your taxes.
Tax-Deductible Charitable Contributions
Tax-deductible charitable contributions must be made before December 31st. If you tithe to your church or give to other organizations, donating before the deadline may allow you to take advantage of tax savings.
Tax Planning Meeting
Even if you don’t meet with your CPA/Accountant before year-end, consider scheduling an appointment. Discussing tax strategies can help you capitalize on financial opportunities. You may opt to pay estimated taxes or adjust your tax withholding. Harvesting losses and factoring unrealized and realized gains on your investments can also yield tax savings.
Maximize Annual Gift Exclusion
The IRS limits 2017 contributions to $14,000 before you incur gift tax. The provision is on a per-recipient basis, so you can make individual $14,000 gifts to as many people as you choose. Because the provision is also on a per-donor basis, a married couple can give a total of $28,000 to each recipient under the annual gift tax exclusion. This may be a wealth-transfer strategy worth considering.
Meet With Financial Planner
We recommend – at minimum – an annual review with your financial planner to identify savings strategies, analyze coming decisions, and verify that your investment strategy aligns with your current lifestyle and goals.
Important data to review from your budget:
Contribute to 401k for Employer Matching
If your employer matches 401k contributions, research the plan limitations and try to contribute at least that much each year. If that goal is currently unattainable, finding ways to increase your contributions would be advantageous. Once you reach the matching level and you’re ready to contribute more, discuss with your financial planner the best place to invest additional retirement funds.
Maximize Contributions to a Tradition IRA or ROTH IRA
The IRS limits 2017 IRA contributions to $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). Traditional IRAs and/or ROTH IRAs provide tax benefits when it comes to saving for retirement. Your financial planner can help identify which one suites your situation best.
Over time, dividends and market adjustments cause your investment allocation to shift. Your comfort level with risk may also change. We recommend you rebalance your portfolio at least annually to ensure appropriate allocation.
Evaluate Investment Fees
The amount you’re paying for account management and oversight can impact your financial picture. Traditionally, investment fees can be one of the more complicated aspects of the financial services industry. Fee-only advisors simplify this process with easy-to-understand fee-structures. Evaluate costs to determine what’s appropriate for your situation. If you’re not yet a client and would like help navigating this topic please give us a call.
Review Consolidation Options
It’s easy to accumulate accounts from previous employers or various banks and institutions. Over the years holding accounts with multiple custodians can be costly. Review accounts to determine opportunities to reduce expenses.
Contribute to 529 Account
If you anticipate college or education expenses, the sooner you can begin saving the better. While the tax benefits are not immediate, earnings will not be subject to federal tax when used for a qualified education expense. Keep gifting limits in mind, as there may tax consequences if your total gifting to a particular beneficiary exceeds $14,000 for the year.
Review Insurance Policies
It’s easy to set up an insurance policy and forget it. All insurance policies should be reviewed regularly. Compiling your budget and net worth helps determine if any changes are needed. Maybe you purchased or sold an item you carry insurance on. Talk with your insurance agent annually about cost, coverage, and deducible to help you navigate this complex topic. Examples of policies to review: health, life, annuities, long-term care, disability, property and casualty, automotive.
Spend down FSA or Review your HSA & Plan for next year
If your health insurance allows for a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA), evaluate last year’s medical expenses to determine a realistic estimate for the coming year. In the case of an FSA, find ways to spend before year-end to avoid losing funds.
Review Estate Documents & Account Beneficiaries
An up-to-date and comprehensive set of legal documents aids a smooth transition to beneficiaries and might help avoid unnecessary taxes. Take the time to read through your estate documents to confirm everything is still relevant. Ensure beneficiaries are correctly listed on all accounts. If you have any questions, or if there is anything you don’t understand, make a note and set a time to discuss with your attorney. Life happens, so make sure these documents are accurate before they’re required.
Some items come into play as you reach a certain age. Here are a few to consider:
Catch up IRA Contributions Allowed
Distributions from 401k allowed
IRA Distributions allowed
Review Social Security Options
Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) from IRAs Mandatory
The items in this blog are intended to help you review various aspects of your financial life. Since financial topics are personally unique, we recommend taking the time to identify additional items that may apply to your specific situation. If you need help or have questions, please feel free to contact us at: 360-338-0645 or firstname.lastname@example.org