Your New Year’s Financial Checklist
Financial Planning can feel overwhelming with so many pieces to the puzzle and various elements to consider. It can be especially overwhelming if you’ve ever fallen behind on mortgage payments, built up credit card debt, or don’t have health insurance when you really need it. However, financial planning should be one of the centerpieces of organizing your life. Even if you’ve fallen behind, you can work on creating a plan that prioritizes payments, works within your budget, and helps you get set for the future.
Here at eLEND, we’ve pulled together some important pieces to your personal financial puzzle to help you prioritize, strategize, and plan for a stable and prosperous future. We hope you can use this Financial Checklist to help get your fiscal house in order.
Financial Planning Checklist
Use These Guidelines to Help Plan and Prepare for Financial Stability
- Evaluate your debt. This is a good time to figure out what debt carries the highest interest rates and prioritize those payments. In the case of credit card debt, it may be possible to negotiate lower interest rates. You may wish to consult with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.NFCC.org), a non-profit organization providing free and confidential debt management advice to anyone who needs it.
- Prepare for tax season. Plan and gather end-of-year statements you’ll need for filing federal and state taxes. Evaluate withholding payments for the next year based on any recent changes in your life (see below for a list of life changes that can affect your financial status, gathered from www.IRIonline.org.
- Make your planned charitable contributions. Charitable contributions, either in the form of cash or items donated, can be eligible for a tax write-off. Make your contributions before the end of the year to benefit on this year’s tax filing.
- Make your IRA and 401(k) contributions. Some people add to their retirement accounts each month, some when they can afford to, and some at the end of the year. However you make your contributions each year, make sure that you try to contribute the maximum amount for your type of account. This maximum allowable amount can change over the years so be sure to check on your limits and max out the contributions.
- Create and contribute to college savings accounts. If you have children or grandchildren, start an education savings account, a 529 college savings plan, or make a contribution to already existing plans. 529 contributions may be subject to the annual gift tax exclusion per individual per year so it’s important to evaluate this contribution in light of other gift money you’re considering for the year (see “Plan for gift tax and estate tax planning” below).
- Check up on wills and estate planning. Make sure that the wording of your will reflects your actual intentions and wishes. Especially if you’ve gotten married, had children or grandchildren, or gained an inheritance, you’ll want to update your will to be sure that all parties are accounted for.
- Plan for gift tax and estate tax planning. If you think that you may be subject to the estate tax someday (total taxable estates and lifetime gifts that exceed $1,000,000), then you may want to think about gifting your money to individuals over time. You are allowed to give away a certain amount to any individual each year without having to pay gift tax.
- Evaluate stock portfolio. Determine if there are any losing stocks that need to be sold. The losses from these may help offset taxable gains from other investments in this tax year.
- Check in on Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). Now is when you’ll want to use up any remaining balance that you may have in your FSA, otherwise you simply lose the money. In a flexible medical account, it’s possible to use the money to purchase non-prescription medicines that qualify as expenses for FSA purposes. Also check to see if your plan provides for a grace period of up to 2.5 months in which any qualified medical expenses incurred in that period can be paid from any amounts left in the account at the end of the previous year. For details and more information on FSA’s, please visit IRS – Flexible Spending Accounts.
- Check Health insurance plan and deductible. If you’ve maxed out your health insurance deductible for the year, you might want to think about scheduling any necessary medical treatments or exams before the new year to take advantage of the potential savings from having already reached your deductible. If the set amount of your plan has not been met, then you might want to consider holding off on exams or treatments (when and if possible) until the new year to work toward reaching next year’s deductible. If you’ve recently gotten married and plan to have children in the future, then you should think about opting for maternity coverage in your health plan. If you wait until you are already pregnant, then insurance companies may treat that as a pre-exisiting condition and you won’t benefit from the coverage you require.
- Revisit insurance policies. Ensure that your property, belongings, and person are properly insured by revisiting your life insurance policies as well as home, renters, and disability policies at this time.
Major Life Changes
To help you prioritize the steps that are most appropriate for your situation, we found this list from Insured Retirement Institute (www.IRIonline.org) that help you identify life changes that can affect your financial planning and retirement strategy. If any of these changes apply to you, you’ll want to make the appropriate adjustments in your financial plan:
- Birth, adoption, or legal guardianship
- Graduation from college
- Your child marries
- Death of a spouse, child, or dependent
- New job
- Job loss
- Start, buy, or close a business
- Gain or lose a business partner
- Change retirement plans or insurance providers
- Enter or leave retirement
- Considerable health changes for you, a spouse, or dependent
- Buy and/or sell a home
- Receive Social Security or Medicare
- Reception of inheritance or settlement
- Establish a Trust
Securing Your Future With a Sound Financial Plan
New Year’s is always an exciting and overwhelming time with a lot of holiday planning and shopping, family and friend gatherings, reflection, and resolution. Your financial health is one of the biggest factors affecting your whole life and we urge you to prioritize your financial planning amidst all the other responsibilities you have. Financial stability and strategic retirement planning reduces stress, saves money, and helps provide a better future for you and your loved ones.
Please consult with your tax advisor and financial planner before making any financial related decisions.
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