Every year we like to provide a list of year-end items everyone should review. The final months of the year are a good time to take stock of a number of financial planning items to see if all are on track or if any strategies need adjusting or accounts need updating. The sooner these items are addressed, and adjustments made, the better position you will likely be in for 2022.
Is your emergency fund fully funded? If you tapped into your emergency fund for any reason this year, it is important to make sure the account is replenished. As a reminder, the general rule of thumb for an emergency fund is to have 3 months of your necessary expenses saved in cash if you are a dual income household and 6 months if you are a single income household or one person earns significantly more than the other and their income is relied upon to maintain your family’s standard of living.
Have you maxed out your retirement accounts or are they on track to max out by year end? 401(k) and 403(b) contributions must be made by 12/31/2021. The 2021 contribution limit for employee contributions is $19,500. Individual retirement account (IRA) contributions can be made up until the tax filing deadline in April 2022. The 2021 contribution limit for IRAs is $6,000. If you are over age 50, catch up contributions may be available.
Have you used all the money remaining in your Dependent Care or Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)? Most FSAs are use-it-or-lose-it accounts, meaning money left over in the account at the end of the year is forfeited back to the plan, not back to you. Some employers do offer a grace period into next spring or a $500 carry-over from one year to the next for healthcare FSAs, but most do not.
Have you made contributions to your children’s 529 accounts? 529s offer excellent tax advantages if saving for college or other post-high school educational opportunities. Many states offer a state income tax deduction for contributing to a 529 account. Sometimes these tax savings can be substantial. Contributions must be made before 12/31/2021 to receive a 2021 tax deduction.
Have you designated all the gifts you planned to give this year? For 2021, the annual gift tax exclusion amount is $15,000 per person or $30,000 for a married couple. This means you can give up to these amounts to an unlimited number of people without having to worry about gift taxes. Making gifts can be a great way to remove assets from an estate if future estate taxes are a concern. Gifts must be made before 12/31/2021.
Have you made your charitable donations for the year? Giving to charity can be a very powerful tax-savings tool. Check if you have any appreciated investment assets you could donate instead of cash. Donating appreciated investments allows you to avoid paying capital gains taxes when you sell the investments, and you get to claim a deduction for the full value of the donated asset. The charity can then sell the investment and not have to pay capital gains taxes. Donations must be made by 12/31/2021 to count toward your 2021 taxes.
Have any of your investments lost money this year? If any investments in your taxable accounts are in the red, you could consider selling those investments to harvest the loss. Tax loss harvesting can be used to offset gains elsewhere or potentially lower your 2021 tax bill. If your captured losses exceed your realized gains, you will have a net capital loss. Up to $3,000 ($1,500 if you are married and file separately) of net capital losses can be deducted against ordinary income, including salary, self-employment income, and interest income. Any excess loss above these amounts can be carried forward to future years to cancel out gains or deduct against income. Sales to capture losses must occur before year-end to count toward 2021.
Do you need to update beneficiaries? If there has been a major change in your life, such as a marriage or divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, or a death in the family, you may need to update the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. You may also need to update your Will and Power of Attorney documents. There is no deadline for these changes, but the sooner the better.
There are likely to be other items to check up on, but this list should give you a nice head start on making sure you close out the year on strong financial footing.
Jeff Witz, CFP® welcomes readers’ questions. He can be reached at 800-883-8555 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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