As 2020 creeps closer, many of us are filled with the desire to get organized, tie up loose ends and create concrete goals for the coming year. This mentality should be applied to your finances so your approach entering the New Year is proactive rather than reactive. Late-year tax strategies, reviewing your coverages and benefits, updating your estate planning and/or beneficiaries, and reviewing your allocation and investments are but a few areas worthy of your attention. We lead busy and oftentimes, very hectic, lives. It can be difficult to remember what needs to be addressed.

We’ve compiled a year-end checklist to help you close out 2019 and enter 2020 with confidence.

Banking

  • Review your checking account statements and check for fees. Monthly fees, or minimum balance fees warrant looking for a different type of account at your banking institution or possibly finding a new institution to bank with. Are you earning little to no interest in a standard checking account? Consider a brokerage account with check writing privileges.
  • Sign up for online banking, and make sure you have all your online banking passwords up to date. Consider utilizing a program like Quicken to automatically download your account transactions into the registrar. This will help you with planning and holding yourself accountable.
  • Consider online bill pay. Many banks allow you to pay bills directly from your checking account.

Insurance Planning

  • Review your coverages and deductibles for all your insurance plans. Perhaps you can increase your deductible to lower your premium? Discuss this with your insurance agent to ensure it makes sense for your situation. Consider an umbrella liability policy. They are very affordable and can cover you for liability beyond your car or home insurance policies.
  • Do you have life insurance? If so, is your coverage enough for your specific situation? Discuss this with a financial advisor.
  • Do you need disability insurance or long-term care? Discuss your options with a financial advisor.

Retirement Planning

  • Review your 401(k) as far as contributions and investment allocation. Contribute as much as you can to your 401(k). Oftentimes, when the maximum amount is contributed, companies offer a match. The amount needed to qualify for your company’s matching contribution plan is specific to your company, so check with your Human Resources Department to see how much you need to contribute.
  • Consider increasing your 401(k) contributions and signing up for auto escalation if your company/plan offers it. Even a 1% increase every year goes a long way. Ensure your allocation is in line with your overall goals.
  • Meet with a certified financial planner or registered investment advisor to discuss whether you are on track for meeting your retirement savings goals. They can tell you whether you are saving enough each month, and if not, what you need to do to get where you want to be.

 

Investments

  • Ensure your portfolio is being rebalanced. Periodic rebalancing helps maintain your target asset allocation over time.
  • Are there any money-losing positions and/or investments in your portfolio? If so, consider selling them for a tax loss. There are specific wash sale rules to keep in mind. For example, if you sell a stock for a loss, you are not allowed to buy substantially identical stock or securities within 30 days. Discuss with your financial advisor.
  • Find out your minimum IRS distribution. Starting the year that you turn 70 1/2, the IRS requires that you withdraw at least a minimum amount from your retirement account annually. To determine what your minimum distribution is, contact your financial advisor or you can use one of the many calculators found online. Does a qualified charitable distribution make sense? You can donate to a charity directly from your IRA, which, as long as certain rules are met, will count toward your RMD for the year. This donation is also excluded from taxable income.
  • Check the fees and other expenses you are paying for investments, and management of those investments. Oftentimes there are other funds that may be very similar and have lower fees/expenses.
  • Review investment performance with your financial advisor and determine if anything needs to be adjusted based on your current goals, risk tolerance and overall financial situation.

Mortgage

  • Check your interest rate. Rates have been generally lower this year due to the trade war and recent rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. Does it make sense to refinance if you have an adjustable rate currently? Do you have excess cash flow that could be put toward paying down the principal? Discuss with your financial advisor to see what makes the most sense for you.

Credit

  • At the very least, get your free credit report annually to determine your score and check for any errors. If there are errors, move quickly to correct them with the bureaus. Credit Karma will give you a free credit score.

Estate Planning

  • Review your estate planning documents such as your wills, trusts, advanced directives, durable power of attorney, etc. If you don’t have them in place yet, consider meeting with an Estate planning attorney to remedy that.
  • Check your current beneficiaries on all your policies/accounts to ensure they match your current wishes.

Debt

  • If you have credit card debt, consider developing/implementing a debt paydown strategy. Try to cut this number back as much as possible.
  • Create a net worth statement if you don’t already have one and revisit it the same time every year to measure progress toward cutting debt and building wealth.

Tax Planning

  • Understand how the tax cuts and jobs act has changed things and the impact it will have in 2019 and beyond.
  • Discuss with your CPA ways to reduce your total taxable income
  • Review stocks for gains/losses
  • Check your withholding. The withholding tables changed in 2018 surprising many taxpayers. Visit with your CPA or calculate your withholding using the IRS withholding calculator toward the end of the year to avoid an underpayment penalty or surprise tax bill.

Flexible Spending Accounts

  • If you have a medical FSA, you can pay for or get reimbursed for specific qualifying medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. If you don’t use your FSA money by December 31st of each year, you lose it. Many employers offer either more flexibility with a two-and-a-half-month grace period (until March 15, 2019, rather than December 31, 2019) or let you roll $500 into the next year. Oftentimes people over contribute based on their projections for the year’s upcoming medical expenses and have money left there by year-end. FSAstore.com has over 4,000 items covered by most FSAs, so if you need to spend the money before year-end, this is a good place to look. Some examples of what you can use those dollars for are co-pays, deductibles, dental and vision care, dependent daycare, and even Advil. (eligible expenses can vary based on the plan).

If you have any questions about your financial state going into 2020, contact Geier Asset Management online or call us at (410) 824-1853 today.

 

 

Source: NerdWallet/ Smart Balance/Fidelity/ Kiplinger

© Geier Asset Management, Inc. October 2019. Gregory Palacorolla, CFP ® is Director of Wealth Management for Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The articles & opinions expressed in this material were gathered from a variety of sources, but are reviewed by Geier Asset Management, Inc. prior to its dissemination. All sources are believed to be reliable but do not constitute specific investment advice. The views expressed are those of the firm as of October 2019 and are subject to change. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of results, or investment advice. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. In all cases, please contact your investment professional before making any investment choices. Geier Asset Management, Inc. is not responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.