The Holidays are a great time to step back and reflect, the break from our normal routine creates much needed head-clearing time. It’s also a time to pause to take inventory on our lives, to clean up our household and knock out some things that, let’s face it, we all put off as long as possible!
Here is a checklist of sorts, some things to accomplish or think about before December 31st. Some of them IRS-driven, others fall more in the ‘always forget to do that’ category, and some, hopefully, will be new to you:
- Fund as many of your tax-advantaged accounts as possible. This includes 401ks, HSAs, 529s, SIMPLE IRAs…these have calendar year ends, and you want to utilize any and all tax-breaks provided by the IRS. Other tax-advantaged accounts use your tax-filing date for their deadlines, such as individual IRAs and SEP IRAs, but why wait?
- Harvest tax losses – there is a chance the new tax bill will take away your opportunity to choose which shares you sell, by forcing all of us to use ‘First In, First Out’ sale rules. Whether or not that happens, use these last few weeks to examine your capital gains and potentially book offsetting losses.
- Use your FSA. Many people use these accounts to save for health expenses directly from their paycheck, but many people forget to use the money by year-end! These don’t rollover, be sure to spend it or it’s gone.
- Don’t forget RMDs! If you’re over age 70.5, you are required to begin withdrawing from individual IRA accounts. But this can also apply to someone who’s inherited an IRA from a family member, or a wife inheriting an IRA from a deceased husband. The rules for inherited IRAs can be complex, make sure you know what you’re required to do, the IRS will slap a 50% penalty on any amount of an RMD you don’t withdraw!
- Consider using Roth IRA conversions…depending on your situation. The IRS allows all of us to convert traditional IRA money into Roth IRA money, as long as we pay the tax at the conversion. This can be beneficial in years with lower income; for example, you may have taken some time off, or one spouse may have temporarily stopped working. This can result in a year with much lower income (and income tax) than what you project in future years, and can be a good opportunity to consider a Roth conversion.
- Consider accelerating state and local tax payments from ’18 to ’17. Another portion of the upcoming tax bill will limit (we think) your ability to deduct state and local taxes, as well as real estate taxes and mortgage interest. Consider your options to prepay this if you can, especially if you live in a high income locale. Contact your local tax office and inquire, and be sure to talk to your CPA to see how this may impact you specifically.
- Take a health check on your budget. You don’t have to count every penny…but ask yourself if you’ve saved enough this year? Did you spend more than you thought? The goal is incremental progress, not perfection. Stepping back for 5 minutes to assess where your money goes can have a tremendous impact on your future awareness of it jumping out of your pocket. It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep, that builds wealth.
- While you’re at it, take a health check on yourself. Schedule an annual physical – don’t put it off, 3 years ago I fit it into my ‘busy schedule’ and it saved my life.
- Check your credit report and score. We had several reminders this year that no one’s data is safe anymore, hackers can and probably will have your information at some point. Stay vigilant. Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com and verify all accounts look familiar.
- Take a look at your service providers; I’m talking about car insurance, the cable bill, the phone companies. Call them and ask if they can make things cheaper. They know their service is commoditized and looks just like the other guy’s, and they’ll probably give you an incentive to stay. There is no rule that says you can’t change car insurance or get a new internet provider. They’re really hoping you don’t call! They will gradually increase your bill assuming laziness will keep you in place. Don’t fall for it.
- Search for your missing money! Visit unclaimed.org – you or someone you know may have money just sitting there waiting to be collected. I’ve found family money before – you too can be the hero at the holiday dinner table.
- Now give that money away…visit my friends over at uBack. They’ve built an easy-to-use, direct to charity platform, pre-loaded with hundreds of non-profits so you can find your cause of choice. Depending on your itemized deductions, charitable deductions could also be impacted in 2018, so it may be best to do it now.
- Go do something nice for someone. The world needs it more than ever.
The Happiest of Holidays to everyone.