Year-End Financial Planning Checklist

December 8, 2023

This is a comprehensive guide to year-end financial planning opportunities. Use this checklist to make smart moves before we close out the year, and as always work directly with us, your Accountant, or your Attorney to be sure you focus on what is right for you.

GOAL EVALUATION

Did you accurately estimate your spending for the year? Did you feel the effects of inflation on your monthly spending? Have you spent less due to less travel, eating out, etc. and you could put more into savings? Have you had any additional lump sum expenses for the year? What changes may float into 2024 and beyond?
Did you meet your savings goals? How does that necessitate adjustments to your 2024 plan? Saving more or less in 2023 needs to be accounted for when planning for 2024 and beyond. You want to be sure your cash reserve is intact, and that any funds above that amount are working towards your long-term goals.
Review your Financial Plan & set goals for 2024. Now is the time to start planning for 2024, and what you want to achieve. Let us help lay the road map for next year to be sure we are intentional about your financial decisions and how you use your resources.

CASH MANAGEMENT

Verify your Emergency Reserve. Re-evaluate your emergency reserve (typically 3-12 months of spending plus expected lump-sum items) and make sure you focus on funding that before moving any cash into long-term investments.

Is your cash working for you? Many principal protected instruments are paying well over 4% and can be found through our Custodians or your bank. Make sure your cash is finally working for you.

Put excess cash to work. If you have met your emergency reserve and other lump sum obligations for the next 12-24 months, then you may want to put some of the excess cash to work in investment markets.

INCOME TAX

Review year-to-date realized gains/losses. This year has seen a measurable uptick in most equity markets. We want to review trades year-to-date to plan for any related tax implications, and then consider tax-loss harvesting to offset gains taken if they are available in your taxable accounts.

Review your tax withholdings. Have you had a major life change (employment change, marriage/divorce, a new child) that affects your income tax? Check to make sure your tax withholdings have been properly adjusted. Having low withholdings can lead to tax penalties, while having too high of withholdings prevents you from accessing your money until your refund is issued.

Estimate your AGI. Determine your adjusted gross income (AGI) with the help of your tax advisor. Your AGI will help determine your tax bracket, which you’ll need for investment, charitable and retirement planning.

GIVING

If you are planning to give this year, consider the potential benefits. Giving is more than just a tax savings, but why not try to maximize the benefit by exploring tax-advantaged options? If you are taking RMDs, you can gift your RMD directly to a charity and avoid income taxation up to $100,000. If you had a very successful income year, it may make sense to “front-load” several years of charitable contributions into a family charitable vehicle such as a Donor Advised Fund.

Reduce your estate through gifts. You are permitted to give up to $17,000 ($34,000 for married couples) a year per recipient as an untaxed gift in 2023. Gifts above this value will consume part of your lifetime gift/estate tax exemption amount. If a gift directly funds education tuition (i.e. paid directly to the school/university) or pays for qualified medical expenses, it will go untaxed no matter what the value.

INVESTMENTS

Check to see when you last rebalanced your portfolio. 2023 has been a better year in most equity markets which causes your exposures to equities to grow. It is incredibly important to rebalance to be sure you are taking the appropriate amount of risk for your tolerance. We are proactively looking at the need to rebalance as we head into the final month of the year, while keeping any realized taxes in mind.

If you have a tax loss carryforward, let your Advisor know. Having a tax loss typically isn’t your favorite thing, but it can provide some cushion for trading and rebalancing of portfolios. Make sure we have a copy of your most recent tax return, so we use losses you are carrying forward.

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

Max contributions to an IRA and employer retirement plan for the year. Both IRAs and 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. If you find you have excess savings and have not reached your annual limit, it may be a good idea to make additional contributions. Similarly, you may also consider making greater monthly contributions to your accounts next year, spreading out the cost of contribution. The deadline for IRA contributions is usually April 15 of the following year, though this may vary; 401(k) deadlines may be restricted to the calendar year for employee contributions although our small business owners may contribute beyond that date.

If you are age 73 or older, remember that Required Minimum Distributions are necessary in 2023. Start making plans for taking your RMD in 2023, and work that into your cash management program for future years.

Consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Did you have a low-income year, or are expecting substantial increases in income in coming years? It may be an opportune time to convert a portion (or all) of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and pay your taxes at a lower rate.

FAMILY FUNDING

Check your flexible savings account (FSA). The government only permits a $610 annual rollover in an FSA; any excess funds disappear if unused by the end of the year. If you have extra money in your FSA, you may want to schedule necessary medical or dental procedures before the end of the year.

Check your health savings account (HSA). HSA funds don’t disappear at the end of each year like with an FSA. Make sure you maximize contributions up to the stated limits ($3,850 for single and $7,750 for family) if you have a high-deductible healthcare plan.

Consider contributions to a 529 plan to fund your children’s/grandchildren’s education. 529 Plans allow for you to make contributions to a tax-free account that may be used to pay for qualifying secondary education expenses and up now up to $10,000 per beneficiary for private school tuition. Most states offer a state income tax deduction up to a certain limit for contributions, and a few state deductions are unlimited, but be sure to understand and comply with the state requirements.

Review your estate plan. What changed in 2023 that would require updates to your plan? Do you understand the flow of assets? Are all Beneficiary Designations correct? Are your Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney appropriate and up to date? We are closely monitoring any changes to the estate tax exemption and will keep you informed if you should consider changes.

INSURANCE

Higher spending may mean more life insurance. One of the primary components of a life insurance needs analysis is household spending. If you found yourself spending well beyond your typical budget, whatever the reason, this may be a reason to increase your life insurance coverage.

Home and Auto should be “shopped” every few years, and reconsider limits. Your home and auto insurance should be shopped every few years to avoid unnecessary cost. We are also seeing a considerable increase in construction and building costs; therefore, you may need to increase your replacement cost on your Homeowners policy. If your costs of insurance are rising, but you have a great cash reserve, we are also seeing favorable premium cuts for increased deductibles. Work with an insurance expert to be sure the right insurance solution is customized to your situation.

Review your need for Personal Liability Umbrella Coverage. It is common to target liability coverage to match your net worth, or your critical capital. You have some liability coverage in your home and auto policies (typically either $300,000 or $500,000), but net worth beyond this limit could justify additional coverage through an Umbrella policy. It is typically very affordable, but very impactful if ever needed.

Written by Beth Bosworth

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