It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday festivities near year end — the decorating and shopping, the family gatherings and parties with friends. But it’s important to remember that the end of the year is also the perfect time to take stock of your finances and, most importantly, plan for the year ahead.
So, where do you begin? We’ve put together a checklist of some of the most important things to address this time of year, with a focus on the tasks that stand make or save you more money. Hopefully you’ve already sought out the assistance of a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, but if not, we are here to help.
Let’s get started.
1. Maximize your company retirement plan contributions.
Employee 401k contribution limits tend to increase from year to year. If possible, you want to make sure your contributions hit the maximum limit. Here’s why: The money you invest into your 401k is tax-free, and in hitting your limits, you are growing your retirement without the taxes while reducing your taxable income for the year.
If your company provides a 401k match, this becomes even more important. You don’t want to miss out on free money. So make sure you take advantage of everything your company is willing to give.
2. Assess mutual fund capital gains distributions.
When your mutual fund manager sells an asset within the fund’s portfolio for more than the purchase price, the manager distributes those profits — known as capital gains — to the shareholders.
More money in your pocket sounds like a good thing, right? The answer is yes, as long as you plan for it properly. All income received from mutual funds must be included in the shareholders’ taxable income. And, as we mentioned above, your goal at the end of the year is to decrease the taxable portion of your income — not grow it.
However, if you understand what your capital gains distributions will look like, you can prepare appropriately. So take stock, and then work with your financial advisor to make a plan.
3. Review your health insurance and HSAs.
Health insurance is a significant expense for many of us, that’s why it’s important to take some time to review your health care spending over the past year and determine if the plan you’re currently using makes sense for your needs. If not, considering finding a more suitable plan. If you’re confused, ask a CFP® to help you evaluate your healthcare spending.
If you have a high-deductible health plan, you may have also put money into a Health Savings Account, or HSA. The money you invest in an HSA is pre-tax, so it decreases your taxable income. This can be a big help come tax time.
Individuals can contribute any amount up to their yearly maximum. Like 401k limits, these limits are announced before the start of the new year and tend to increase over time. If you haven’t maxed out your HSA for the year, now might be a good time. And if you don’t foresee spending that much on health care next year, not to worry. The money you put into your HSA doesn’t have to be spent within a given time frame. So, by contributing the maximum amount to your HSA every year, you’re creating a deep reservoir of tax-free money to spend on your health care well into the future.
Finally, if you have leftover HSA funds during retirement (after age 65), you may withdraw them without penalty for non-healthcare expenses, but the funds will be subject to regular income tax.
4. Check your required minimum distributions.
When you hit a certain age — 70½ to be exact — you have to begin taking withdrawals from most retirement accounts, including IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs and SEP IRAs. Those withdrawals must hit the minimum distribution requirements set by the IRS, and whatever you take out will be included in your taxable income for the year. So now is the time to ensure you’re hitting those required minimum distributions — and to note the impact to your bigger financial picture.
There is one exception to the required minimum distribution rule, and that is the Roth IRA. These accounts do not require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.
5. Determine a savings plan for next year.
Take time now to review your savings performance this year. Did you hit your goals? If not, where did you come up short? If so, what was it that took you off course?
That information will form the foundation for next year’s savings plan. If you fell short of your goals this year, commit to making up for your shortcomings next year. If your savings plans were set back by certain life events, speak to a financial advisor to determine how you can create a cushion to protect yourself in 2019. If you surpassed your 2018 goals, think about creating a stretch goal to work toward over the next 12 months.
Your financial goals and strategies should be specific to you and your family. That’s how we approach each and every one of our investors. And we’re ready to help you put a viable plan in place as you head into 2019.