The year is winding down, which means you’re likely racing the clock to meet planning deadlines before 2015 ends.
But it’s also important to recognize that year-end planning extends beyond your taxes.
To ensure you’re on track to achieve your goals for the year, it’s crucial to take a step back and review your entire financial health. Overlooking key planning items now can derail your progress toward meeting your long-term financial goals.
Here are seven items you should consider as year-end approaches:
1. Review Your Retirement Contributions
In 2015, the maximum contribution limit for 401(k) plans is $18,000, while the limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $5,500. If you’re 50 or older, remember that you’re eligible to make catch-up contributions of $6,000 to your 401(k) plan, and $1,000 to your traditional or Roth IRAs.
If you’re not maximizing your contributions to reach these limits, take a look at your budget. Do you expect to receive a bonus or a raise this year? If so, put those funds toward your contributions. If you’re making Roth contributions to your 401(k) plan, it’s also a good time to regroup with your tax accountant and financial advisor to evaluate whether that’s still the most optimal strategy for your situation.
If you’re self-employed, you may consider establishing and contributing to a SEP IRA or a Solo 401(k) plan to help boost your retirement savings. These contributions can also decrease your taxable income in the tax year attributable to the contribution.
If you opt for the latter, remember that Solo 401(k) plans must be established by December 31, 2015. You can make contributions to either of these retirement vehicles until the extended due date of your tax return.
2. Consider a Roth Conversion
If you’re having a low-income year, or a year with high deductions and/or net operating losses from a business, you may want to consider a Roth conversion.
The assets that are converted to your Roth IRA will be reported as income in the year of the conversion, but will be offset by deductions and/or net operating losses.
If you’re already in retirement and have started taking RMDs from your traditional or Roth IRA, consider meeting with a financial advisor to develop a strategy for managing your cash flow needs and the tax impact of your retirement withdrawals.
3. Employ Tax-Loss Harvesting
If you realized a large capital gain this year, you may consider tax-loss harvesting.
Tax-loss harvesting is an investment strategy that involves selling an investment at a loss and buying a similar, substitute investment simultaneously. By using this strategy, you can “lock in” an otherwise unrealized paper loss to offset gains on your tax return, but the overall composition of your investment portfolio essentially remains the same.
Through tax-loss harvesting, you can help minimize your capital gains tax liability and possibly achieve a greater after-tax investment return. Contact your investment advisor to look for tax-loss harvesting opportunities before year-end.
4. Consider Gifting Appreciated Assets to Charities
You may want to consider gifting your appreciated securities to charities to avoid paying capital gains tax. When a charity receives these assets and sells them, they don’t have to pay capital gains tax on the realized gain — and you don’t have to either.
If you’re having a high-income year and want to ramp up your gifting, but aren’t sure which charities to support, consider establishing a donor-advised fund (DAF). With a DAF, you can take a full tax deduction in the year that you contribute and make grants from the account in any subsequent year, which gives you more time to research charitable organizations and identify which causes matter most to you.
5. Review Your Estate Plan
Be sure to revisit your estate plan before the end of the year, especially if you’ve experienced a major life event, like marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. In these events, you should update all of your estate planning documents and review the current beneficiaries of your will and life insurance policies. In fact, you may want to consider having all of your policies reviewed to ensure the terms and coverage can still support your current goals and circumstances.
6. Build Savings for the Next Generation
In 2015, the annual federal gift tax exclusion allows you to make gifts of up to $14,000 to anyone without triggering gift tax. If you’re inclined to help the next generation, annual gifts can be appreciated during your lifetime, instead of through an inheritance after your death. You can also use these gifts to make contributions to 529 college savings plans or retirement accounts. It’s a great way to support savings for the next generation.
7. Update Your Financial Plan
Like most people, your goals and priorities might look different than this time last year — and that’s perfectly normal. However, as your goals change, so too should your financial plan. If you haven’t already, enlist the help of a financial advisor to put all the pieces together, assess whether your plan is still working and make adjustments accordingly.