As you approach the end of your career, it is important to think about financial planning. One of...
End-of-Year Financial Checklist: Preparing for the New Year
As we approach the end of the year, it's not just a time for festive celebrations but also a critical period to assess and enhance your financial well-being. Strategic financial planning ensures that you close the chapter on the current year successfully and set the stage for financial prosperity in the upcoming one. In this blog, we'll provide a comprehensive end-of-year financial checklist, covering everything from budget reviews to retirement planning and beyond.
Year-End Financial Review
Reflect on Your Financial Goals
Before getting into the specifics, take a moment to reflect on your financial journey this year. What were your achievements, and what adjustments are needed for the coming year to account for changes in your financial situation, such as births, sickness, or job changes? Assessing your goals provides a roadmap for the next steps.
Review Your Budget
Analyze income versus expenses to ensure you are living within your means and identify areas where you can cut back. An easy place to start is by examining your subscriptions and recurring expenses. Cancel any subscriptions that are no longer necessary or disrupt your financial priorities. Optimizing your budget can free up funds for more practical purposes.
Confirm that you have sufficient funds set aside for emergencies. Experts recommend setting aside three to six months' worth of living expenses in case of unexpected financial challenges. If you don’t have an emergency fund or had to dip into your existing emergency fund, begin by setting aside a small, consistent sum of money into a dedicated savings account each month, gradually building a financial cushion to cover unforeseen expenses and emergencies.
Develop a debt management plan by reviewing your outstanding debts, including credit card balances, loans, and mortgages. Develop a strategic plan to pay off high-interest debts first. If possible, consider whether refinancing or debt consolidation to streamline payments and reduce interest rates would be beneficial.
Credit Report Check
Check your credit report for any discrepancies, such as identity theft, which is increasingly common among older adults. Your credit score plays a crucial role in your financial health, impacting loan approvals and interest rates. Address any inaccuracies promptly to maintain a healthy credit profile.
Consider consulting with a financial advisor for a more thorough financial review and personalized advice. Similarly, speak with a tax professional if you have complex tax situations you’re unfamiliar with.
Protect your finances by enrolling in credit and identity theft monitoring services from companies like Aura, LifeLock, Experian, or Identity Guard. Enrolling in financial security services is crucial as it provides a proactive and tailored approach to safeguarding your financial well-being, offering protection and peace of mind. Additionally, securely document the passwords and access details for your bank and other financial accounts using a password management tool.
Know Your Net Worth
Understanding your net worth is akin to having a comprehensive scorecard consolidating various aspects of your financial life, including assets, liabilities, and investments, providing a holistic view of your financial health. Knowing your net worth allows you to make informed decisions, track financial progress, and set strategic goals for a more secure future.
Review Your Coverage
Evaluate life, property, health, long-term care, and disability insurance to ensure adequate coverage. Ensure your coverage coordinates with your current needs and circumstances by reviewing your physical assets like jewelry or collectibles to determine if you need to update insurance coverage or consider selling items that are no longer needed.
Consider Alternative Policies
Consider and assess the coverage offered by different Medicare plans to determine the most suitable option for your medical requirements. Additionally, exploring supplemental insurance policies, such as Medigap, can provide added financial protection by covering costs that traditional Medicare may not. Taking the time to understand the intricacies of these healthcare options ensures that you make informed decisions, securing comprehensive coverage tailored to your specific health and financial circumstances.
In your retirement planning, start by reviewing your retirement savings to ensure they are on track to meet your goals, making necessary adjustments to retirement contributions if needed. If you're over 50, consider catch-up contributions to boost your retirement accounts. Additionally, delve into distribution planning, carefully strategizing how to manage withdrawals and distributions from your retirement accounts to optimize your financial security in retirement.
Review your Social Security statement for accuracy to ensure that the reported earnings and contribution history are correct, as these factors directly impact your future benefits. Also, begin strategizing the best time to begin receiving benefits by considering your financial needs, health status, and life expectancy.
Checking on any pension benefits you may have involves a comprehensive review of your pension plan to understand its terms, benefits, and conditions. It's critical to be aware of factors such as vesting periods, payout options, and potential survivor benefits. By thoroughly understanding your pension options, you can make informed decisions about retirement income and ensure that your financial strategy aligns with the offerings and conditions of your pension plan.
Assess your investment portfolio to ensure it aligns with your risk tolerance, investment goals, and market conditions. Additionally, evaluate the performance of your investment portfolio. Rebalance your portfolio if it has strayed from your target asset allocation, as diversification mitigates risk and optimizes returns.
If you have children or grandchildren, review and consider contributing to education savings plans, such as a 529 plan. Ensure your contributions align with your education funding goals and consider adjusting based on any changes in future education plans.
Review Withholdings and Payments
Regularly reviewing your tax withholdings and payments is essential for financial prudence. Ensuring that your withholdings align with your current financial situation can help avoid surprises at tax time and optimize your cash flow throughout the year.
Review Property Tax
Review your property taxes at the end of the year to assess any changes in property value, ensure accurate tax assessments, and identify potential opportunities to appeal or adjust your property tax obligations for the upcoming year.
Contribute to tax-advantaged accounts, including your Health Savings Account (HSA), Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or employer-sponsored retirement plans, before the year ends to maximize tax benefits. HSA contributions are tax-deductible and can be used for qualified medical expenses, providing a dual benefit for your health and finances. Similarly, maximize contributions to your retirement accounts. Ensure you're taking advantage of employer matches in your 401(k) or similar retirement plans. These contributions not only reduce your taxable income but also secure your financial future.
Deductions and Tax Benefits
Explore available deductions and credits, such as educational expenses, home mortgage interest, or charitable contributions. Beyond the financial advantages, contributing to causes you care about is a meaningful way to give back during the holiday season. Keep records of your donations for tax purposes.
Review your will, trusts, power of attorney, and healthcare directives to ensure they are up to date. Regularly reviewing your estate policies is a crucial aspect of financial planning, ensuring that your insurance coverage, will, and other legal documents accurately reflect your current circumstances and preferences. This proactive approach allows you to make necessary adjustments that align with any changes in your life, ultimately safeguarding your assets and ensuring your wishes are upheld.
Effective estate planning in the digital era involves compiling a comprehensive inventory of online assets, appointing a trustworthy digital executor, and updating your will to address their distribution. When managing your digital assets, ensure that your passwords, online accounts, and digital properties are accounted for in your estate plan.
Review and update beneficiaries on your financial accounts and insurance policies. Ensure they accurately reflect your current wishes, especially if there have been changes in your personal life, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child in the family.
In addition to assigning a guardian for any minor children, review your parents' and other dependent relatives' finances. Discuss their wishes regarding nursing facilities, end-of-life care, and medical treatments. Your annual financial wellness checkup may also be an appropriate time to verify that older relatives have a will, advance medical directives, and a power of attorney in place for themselves.
Prepare for the New Year
Make sure that you organize important financial documents, including tax returns, insurance policies, and investment statements. Consider digitizing paperwork for easy access and retrieval to simplify financial management and ensure you're prepared for future audits or inquiries.
Set Financial Goals for the New Year
Define clear, achievable financial goals for the upcoming year by breaking down long-term goals into smaller, more manageable steps. Whether you’re saving for a home, paying off debt, or investing for the future, having specific targets provides direction and motivation.
The end of the year is a prime opportunity to optimize your financial standing. By following this comprehensive checklist, you'll not only wrap up the current year on a strong note but also set the stage for financial success in the new year. Remember, everyone's financial situation is unique, so tailor this checklist to your specific needs and consult with financial professionals if needed. Here's to a financially prosperous new year!