By Daniel Williams
For most people, the month of December will be a whirlwind of activity with days and nights filled with shopping, feasting, traveling and maybe even a little caroling thrown in for good measure. With all the frenetic activity going on around the holiday season, do not get distracted from your financial goals. If you want to fully enjoy your time with friends, family and the dreaded fruitcake, you will want to take these five financial actions before December 31.
1. Max out your contributions. A great way to grow your nest egg is by investing in your 401(k), IRA or other retirement accounts. In 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 to your 401(k) and, if you are age 50 or older, catch-up contributions kick in, allowing you to save up to $24,000. For an IRA, the maximum contribution is $5,500; if you are age 50 or older, the catch-up contribution totals $6,500.
2. Rebalance your portfolio. When you originally set up your investments, you had particular financial goals in mind, but those goals have a way of changing based on where you are in your life and career. It is a good idea to take an annual look at your portfolio and see if your investments match your current risk tolerance or if they need a refresh.
3. Gifting money and property. Because we are in the season of giving, you might consider gifting money and property to your heirs – it can also help you avoid estate taxes down the road. You can give a maximum of $14,000 per individual (to unlimited recipients) without incurring federal gift tax in 2017. You can also gift property. According to the IRS, you and your spouse are entitled to give up to $28,000 in property this year.
4. Charitable giving. When you begin making end-of-year financial decisions, do not forget about charitable giving. It is another great way to save on taxes, while also contributing to causes that have meaning to you. If giving to a favorite charity sounds like a good fit for you, research the organization before writing a check. You will want to make sure your charity of choice qualifies for a tax deduction. If they do, your contributions are tax deductible up to 50 percent of your income. To claim your charitable deductions, you will need to itemize them on your 1040 tax form (see related story page 15).
5. Take a big picture view. The end of the year is a time for reflection – a time to take stock of the past year. It is also a time to evaluate your financial situation. Over the past year, how has your financial situation shifted? Did you change jobs? Buy a house? Expand your family? Major changes often require a need for adjustments to your larger financial picture. You may need to purchase additional insurance, increase/decrease your deductions, refinance your house or ramp up your savings rate. It is always a good idea to review your financial plan each year, particularly in the case of any major, life-altering changes.