While you’ll be busy with the holidays, make sure to take some time to review your financial picture before year’s end. I suggest starting with these tips and speaking with your financial advisor and accountant about your specific situation.
1) Taxes – Most tax strategies must be implemented prior to year’s end to be effective for 2016. While it is imperative that you always consult your tax advisor before implementing any tax planning strategy, here are a couple ideas that you may want to consider:
Make the most of capital gains and losses. If you have realized gains in your portfolio from investments that you have sold, think about reviewing your portfolio for any unrealized losses that may be appropriate to harvest or realize to offset gains.
If you have a taxable investment account, you may want to contact your investment company regarding any estimated capital gains, dividends, or other distributions that those investments are planning to make prior to the end of the year. Again, you may have investments at a loss that could be sold to help offset these estimated, taxable distributions.
For those of you with realized losses, it may be advantageous to use a rebalancing opportunity to realize portfolio gains to offset any investment losses. You can also review your portfolio for any asset classes or investment styles that, due to appreciation, now represent too large a percentage of your total portfolio than is recommended based upon your risk tolerance.
Maximize tax-advantaged accounts. If you find that you have some extra cash heading into the end of the year or that you’ve recently received a raise, you may want to increase your employer-sponsored retirement plan contribution for the end of the year. Adding to your 401k / 403b / TSP etc. may help to reduce your taxable income for 2015.
2) Financial planning – Starting the New Year by pulling together your financial information for a review is a great way to get a jump start on your New Year’s resolution. Reviewing your plan can include an assessment of your spending, seeing if you should refinance any of your liabilities, assessing your insurance needs, creating tax strategies for the year, and making sure that you’re still on track for your financial goals.
You can work with a financial planner for this or do it on your own: the important part is taking the time to do it. All too often people put their finances on cruise control which can cause them to miss opportunities.
3) Review your investment mix – You should review your asset allocation at least once a year. The idea for rebalancing your portfolio is to make sure that you’re not taking on too much risk or being too conservative for your goals. If you haven’t touched a mix of investments that you set five or ten years ago, you could find that the mix has become significantly more aggressive and may no longer be a good fit for you.
4) Estate planning – Life changes before you know it. You may have met with an attorney ten years ago to establish an estate plan. At the time you may have been single and left everything to parents who may have passed or siblings to whom you no longer speak. Worse yet, you may have been in a relationship that has since ended.
Federal and state estate and tax laws have changed significantly over the years, some documents are more powerful during the first few years of being signed, and you may have decided that you need to change the beneficiaries in your will, life insurance, or investment accounts. If you have an estate plan that’s more than five years old, had a significant life/wealth change, or need to update your beneficiaries, then I suggest that you contact an attorney to update your estate plan.
If you don’t have an estate plan, you should get one. There are wealthy people who pass without an estate plan only to have their heirs bicker over the estate or see the estate depleted significantly by taxes. Even people of modest means should consider an estate plan to ensure that the state isn’t making decisions for where your assets (or pets) go after you pass. Also, I believe that an estate plan is more important while you’re alive because it can include documents for health care and financial decision making in the event that you’re incapacitated.
It’s not imperative that you do all of these suggestions immediately, but these are all key pieces to building a sound financial foundation and should be addressed. Mark off a Saturday or Sunday for each of the next few months to address one of these topics. If you do one at a time, it may seem less intimidating and increase the likelihood that you’ll take steps to improve your financial picture.