Financial housekeeping might remind you of Goldilocks—spring seems too early, summer gets too busy, but fall feels just right.
Reviewing your finances well before the end of the year allows you to potentially make some smart tax and retirement income planning moves, plus avoid the stress of scrambling to meet year-end deadlines during the holidays.
Here are some important tax planning and asset protection things you can do now.
Take advantage of tax-saving opportunities to help reduce your taxes.
If you itemize, a donation from a taxable account is an effective tax-reduction strategy. This is particularly true if you can contribute appreciated securities held for at least a year. Contributing them to charity not only entitles you to a tax deduction (assuming you qualify), but also allows you to avoid the capital gains tax. For all contributions under $250, remember to get a receipt or have a canceled check.
For noncash contributions over $250, you’ll need a receipt that includes a description of the item and other details. You might also consider a donor-advised fund, which allows you to make a contribution and be eligible for an immediate tax deduction, then recommends grants over time to any IRS-qualified public charity.
If you invest in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds in a non-retirement account, you may be able to reduce taxes on any investment gains for distributions from mutual funds. Tax-loss harvesting might sound complicated, but the principle is fairly simple. Offset your realized taxable gains on your investments (capital gains) with realized losses (capital losses). That means selling stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that have lost value to help reduce taxes on gains from winning investments. However, don’t undermine your long-term investing goals by selling an investment just for tax purposes. Tax-loss harvesting needs to be done by December 31.
A quick evaluation of your investments and retirement income plan can help ensure you’re on track to meet future financial needs.
Investment growth plays an important role in a retirement income strategy, and an appropriate investment mix is essential to smart investing. As investments gain or lose value, you should review and adjust your mix of stocks, bonds, and cash to ensure it remains in balance. Life events may also dictate changes. You may find that managing your portfolio is easier if you bring all your accounts under one roof.
How you withdraw money from your retirement accounts can affect how long your savings last, as well as your current-year tax bill. In general, if you are age 70½ or older, you’re required to take annual Minimum Required Distributions (MRDs)—also known as Required Minimum Distributions, or RMDs—from your tax-deferred retirement accounts by December 31 each year. Take your MRDs first, then withdraw from taxable accounts, followed by tax-deferred accounts. Tax-exempt accounts—Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s—come last. But a flexible strategy may work, too. For example, depending on your tax situation, you may want to reduce your withdrawal from a tax-deferred account and instead withdraw from your tax-exempt Roth accounts, to avoid being bumped into a higher tax bracket. This strategy can be complex, so be sure to consult with your tax advisor.
Protecting your assets can be as simple as keeping your beneficiaries up to date and staying on top of your credit report.
Life comes at you fast. New grandchildren, changes in marital status, and other life events make it necessary to stay on top of the beneficiaries named on your investment accounts. Out-of-date beneficiaries could cause your assets to be distributed in ways that you didn’t intend. While doing your annual financial review, take a few minutes to perform this important task.
Estate planning isn’t just for the old or very rich. No matter what your age or financial status, there are important things you can do. A basic plan includes a will, as well as instructions for what happens if you become incapacitated. Naming a health care proxy, establishing a “living will” regarding end-of-life medical care, and naming a power of attorney can help your loved ones understand your wishes. Talk to your family about your wishes, too.
Take advantage of gifting to family members.
You can gift up to $15,000 a year to as many people as you like, tax-free, in 2019. Taking full advantage of the gift tax exclusion can be a tax-efficient way to begin the distribution of cash and investments that are part of your estate, and that would potentially be subject to inheritance taxes.
Stay on top of Medicare eligibility.
If you’re turning age 65 this year and you’re not working, and you haven’t begun collecting Social Security, make sure you don’t miss your Medicare sign-up window. If you do, you could end up paying higher premiums permanently. You can sign up for Medicare beginning three months before you turn 65, and the initial enrollment period lasts until three months after your birthday. Monthly Part B premiums increase by 10% for every 12-month period you were eligible but didn’t sign up.
Review your credit report.
When it comes to your credit, what you don’t know can definitely hurt you. Checking your report for suspicious activity that could be an indicator of identity theft is critical. Federal law requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.
Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.
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