It’s hard to believe that we’re nearing the end of 2018. The year-end presents a unique opportunity to review your overall personal financial situation. With factors like tax reform, life changes or just working towards your goals, now is an especially important time to evaluate things. The following are some ideas you might want to consider before the year ends.
Income Tax Planning – Ensure you are implementing tax reduction strategies like maximizing your retirement plan contributions, tax gain/loss harvesting in portfolios and making adjustments for the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
- Each dollar contributed to your retirement plan (i.e.: IRA, 401K 403B) is a dollar reduction in your taxable income for the year. This can be a powerful tax savings tool immediately, and provides tax deferred growth for years to come.
- Many investors experienced volatility in their portfolios this year, which may present opportunities for tax-loss harvesting, or selling investments at a loss, which can be offset against an equivalent amount of capital gains or up to $3,000 of ordinary income.
- If you have low income this year (below $38,600 for single taxpayers or $77,200 for joint filers), you may want to consider taking advantage of the 0% tax bracket for long-term capital gains by harvesting some capital gains before year-end.
- It may be prudent to check with your CPA before the year is over to see if there are adjustments you should make given the new tax law such as taking advantage of new benefits or adjusting for tax deductions no longer allowed.
Charitable Giving – There are many ways to be tax efficient when making charitable gifts. For example, donating appreciated stock could make sense in order to avoid paying capital gains taxes. Further, you may want to consider “bunching” charitable deductions, or grouping several years of future donations together at one time by contributing to a donor advised fund, set up by you. The bunching strategy may allow you to qualify for tax itemization in a year you might not otherwise meet the higher threshold under the new tax law. Utilizing bunching, you’ll receive an immediate tax deduction for the year you make the contribution to the donor advised fund. However, you can donate from the donor advised fund anytime, allowing you to keep your annual gifting consistent, if that is important to your church or temple, for example.
Estate Planning – Be sure that your estate planning documents are up to date – not just your will, but also your power of attorney, health care documents, and any trust agreements – and that the beneficiary designations are in line with your desires. If you have recently been through a significant life event such as marriage, divorce or the death of a spouse, this is especially important right now. It may be useful to take an overall review of your estate and review how each asset would be passed on and how the current tax law would impact you.
Investment Strategy– Recently, we’ve seen increased market volatility and it may feel uncomfortable. Market declines are a natural part of investing, and understanding the importance of maintaining discipline during these times is imperative. Regular portfolio rebalancing will allow you to maintain the appropriate amount of risk in your portfolio. If you are retired and living off your portfolio, you also want to maintain an appropriate cash reserve to cover living expenses for a certain period of time so that you do not have to sell equities in a down market and lock in losses.
Retirement Planning – Whether you expect a typical full retirement or something different, determining an appropriate balance between spending and saving, both now and in the future, is important. There are many options available for saving for retirement and it is important to understand which option is best for you. You may want to employ a strategy of contributing to your employer sponsored work plan, a Roth IRA and an after-tax savings vehicle in different percentages depending on the goals for each savings bucket.
Cash Flow Planning– Review your 2018 spending and plan ahead for next year. Understanding your cash flow needs is an important aspect of determining if you have sufficient assets to meet your goals. If you are retired, it is particularly important to maintain a tax efficient withdrawal strategy to cover your spending needs. If you have not yet reached age 70.5, it is prudent to ensure you are making tax-efficient withdrawal decisions. If you are over age 70.5 make sure you are taking your required minimum distributions (RMDs) because the IRS penalties are significant if you don’t. Remember, you can donate your RMD via a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) if you want to avoid having the RMD increase your taxable income which could affect other things like Medicare premiums or social security tax rates to name a few.
Risk Management – It is always a good idea to periodically review your insurance coverages in various areas. Recent catastrophic events like hurricanes and wildfires serve as a powerful reminder to make sure your property insurance coverage is right for your needs. If you are in a Federal disaster area, there are additional steps necessary to recover what you can and explore the tax treatment of casualty losses. Other areas of risk management that may need to be revisited include life and disability insurance.
Education Funding – Funding education costs for children or grandchildren is important to many people. While the increase in college costs have slowed some lately, this is still a major expense for most families. It is important to know the many different ways you can save for education to determine the optimal strategy. Often, funding a 529 plan comes with tax benefits, so making contributions before the end of the year is key. With the added flexibility of utilizing 529 savings funds early for k-12 years (set at a $10,000 limit), 529 accounts become even more advantageous.
Elder Planning – There are many financial planning elements to consider as you age, and it is important to consider these things before it’s too late. Having a plan as to who will handle your financial affairs should you suffer cognitive decline is critical. Making sure your spouse and/or family understands your plans will help reduce future family conflicts and ensure your wishes are considered.
The decisions you make each year with your personal finances will have a lasting impact. Be sure to reach out to your CPA and Financial Planner early to put plans to action and get timely feedback. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season.