By Richard W. Stout III
A new year is almost upon us and it’s all too easy to mentally jump ahead to 2020 and start making plans for the coming months. But how you finish something is just as important as how you start it. So, amid holiday events, travel, and the busyness of the season, give yourself a leg up on next year’s financial goals by crossing these 5 things off your year-end checklist.
1. Celebrate Victories and Set New Goals
Chances are, you set some financial goals for the year when you rung in 2019. Have you checked in on those goals throughout the year or did they get swept under the rug? Take a look at the past year to mark how far you’ve come and celebrate your progress, no matter how small! Then evaluate your saving and spending from the past year, set some new goals, and adjust your financial plan, taking into account any life changes such as marriage, relocation, or a job change.
2. Invest in Your Future
If possible, max out your contributions to your 401(k) by the end of the year to make the most of your retirement savings. For 2019, you can contribute as much as $19,000 (or $25,000 if you are age 50 or older). Remember, these are your contribution limits and any employer match would be in addition to this. You might also consider contributing to a Roth IRA. For 2019, you can contribute as much as $6,000 (or $7,000 if you are age 50 or older). Finish the year strong by investing in your future!
3. Take Advantage of Your Employer Benefits
While every employer has different rules that apply to the benefits they offer their employees, many benefits expire or reset at the end of the year. You work hard for these perks, so be sure to use them!
Medical and Dental Benefits
At the beginning of 2019, did you have good intentions of taking care of some dental work, blood tests, or other medical procedures lingering on your to-do list? Now’s the time to take advantage of all your healthcare needs before your deductible resets. Dental plans in particular often have a maximum coverage amount. If you haven’t used up the full amount and anticipate any treatments, make it a priority to set an appointment before December 31st.
Flexible Spending Account
Like your health insurance benefits, you’ll want to use up as much of your FSA (Flexible Spending Account) dollars by the end of the year as possible. You are only allowed to carry over $500 to the next plan year. Check the restrictions on your account to see what the money can and cannot be used for and take care of any needs you may have as allowed by your plan
Sick and Vacation Time
Depending on your company, your sick or vacation time might expire at the end of the year. Check with your HR department to learn about any expiration dates. If it does expire, fit in a last-minute vacation or even a staycation. If you need to make any trips to the doctor in the near future, schedule those appointments now to make use of these benefits before you lose them.
4. Make Some Updates
To your estate plan and insurance coverage, that is. If you have taken the time and energy to create an estate plan, you’ll want to check in periodically to ensure all the documents are up to date and no major details have changed. Any significant life event is a good time to think about updating your estate plan documents. If you change any of the beneficiaries in one place, such as a life insurance policy, make sure that they are consistent with the other documents so that there is no confusion.
Your insurance needs may have changed as the year has gone on, which is why it’s important to regularly review your insurance coverages and your designated beneficiaries to make sure they are up to date and reflect your current financial situation. For example, if you’ve paid off debt and your youngest child has just graduated from college, you may not need as much life insurance coverage since your family’s needs and liabilities have decreased. You might also want to evaluate your need for other types of insurance you may not currently have, such as long-term care insurance.
5. End the Year on a Generous Note
If gifting is one of your long-term financial goals, it’s never too early to start planning for the legacy you want to leave your loved ones without sharing a good portion of it with Uncle Sam.
Each year you can gift up to $15,000 to as many people as you wish without those gifts counting against your lifetime exemption of $11.4 million. If you’ve yet to gift this year or haven’t reached the $15,000 limit for a particular recipient, make sure you do this by December 31st.
If you’re planning to itemize deductions on your 2019 tax return, be sure to make your charitable contributions before the end of the year. This includes donating appreciated securities, which may help you avoid paying taxes on the gains. Along with your other tax documents, find and organize any receipts you have from donations to charities, whether made in cash, as a securities contribution, or other type of gift.
Let’s Finish 2019 Strong!
Which of these steps do you need to take before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve? The team at Benchmark Wealth Management would love to help you finish the year off strong and set you up for a successful 2020. If we are currently working together, know that I appreciate your trust. If you are interested in learning more about how I work, who I serve, and how I may be able to assist you, I encourage you to reach out. Please call 860.434.6890 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss ways we can work together to make 2020 your best year yet!
Richard W. Stout III is managing director of Benchmark Wealth Management, LLC, with 23 years of experience in the financial industry. He specializes in financial planning and asset management for individuals, families, and institutions seeking to build and monitor durable and sustainable plans for their financial futures. Rick is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) professional. He has earned a Master of Science degree in Personal Financial Planning from the College for Financial Planning. He obtained his MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his BA in economics and anthropology from the University of Connecticut. He also completed the Accredited Wealth Management Advisor (AIF®) program through the Estate and Wealth Strategies Institute at Michigan State University. He has extensive background experience in lending, credit review and analysis, and real estate and partnership management. Learn more about Rick by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
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