By Stephen Kyne
The end of another year is rapidly approaching, and just as you cross items off your checklist and prepare your home for the winter, it’s also important to complete maintenance items to prepare your finances to close-out 2018.
An often-overlooked task is to review your beneficiary declarations each year. Families grow, as new members are added, and shrink with death and divorce, which means that beneficiary and transfer-on-death declarations can easily become outdated and no longer reflect your true wishes.
Since these declarations are a matter of contract, they will overrule what your will may say. So, even if you’ve updated your will to exclude an ex-spouse, but you left them as beneficiary on your IRA, your new spouse won’t be able to inherit those assets, but the ex will, and it can’t be challenged in probate.
Another piece of financial housekeeping is to begin to gather documents you’ll be needing just after the new year to prepare your taxes. Compile receipts for medical bills, tuition payments, child care and charitable contributions, among others.
While many of us will no longer be able to itemize deductions due to the new tax law, there are credits for things like child care and education expenses which you may still be eligible for. For those with large medical bills, or who have been particularly philanthropic this year, you may still be able to itemize, so it is important to have those receipts handy.
If you have a January or February school or property tax payment due, consider making that payment before the year-end if, when combined with your other deductible items, it would push you over the standard deduction. You’re going to have to pay that bill anyway, you might as well take the deduction if it’s available this year, and may not be next year.
When it comes to planning for your retirement, this is the perfect time to evaluate your contribution levels to your retirement plans at work. If you have the ability, and you’re not yet contributing to the maximum levels allowed, consider topping these accounts off to take advantage of the possible tax deduction this year, as well as the ability to simply squirrel as much away for the future as possible.
You may not be aware, but once you reach age 50, you are eligible for higher contribution levels than in prior years. So, if you’ve turned 50 this year, consider increasing your contributions. For 401(k) plans, you can contribute an additional $6,000 to a max of $24,500, from $18,500 for those under 50. For SIMPLE plans, you get a $3,000 addition, up to a new max of $15,500. Take advantage of this opportunity to catch-up on contributions you may not have been able to make when you were younger.
On the subject of milestone birthdays, if you turned 70 1/2 in 2018, you’re going to start having to take withdrawals from IRAs and certain company sponsored retirement plans. Your contributions to these accounts have been allowed to grow tax-deferred all this time, and now Uncle Sam wants his share.
Each year, from now on, you are going to have to take a required minimum distribution from these accounts, and pay taxes on the proceeds. The amount you are required to take changes each year, and is based on a combination of your age, and the closing account values from the previous year.
If you don’t think the government is serious about this, think again. If you fail to take the required amount (you can always take more), the government imposes a penalty of 50 percent of the amount you failed to take, plus taxes due.
The end of the year is a perfect time to review your various forms of insurance, including your home and auto. Take note of various coverage limits and deductibles. If you can, consider a higher deductible in order to save on premium expenses.
Ensure that your homeowners coverage amounts reflect the value of your home. Your home has probably appreciated since you purchased it, but have you increased your coverage limits to keep pace?
Your independent financial advisor is perfectly suited to help you mark most of these items off your list. Review your beneficiaries, gather tax documents, maximize funding of your various retirement plans, take required distributions, and review your insurance coverage with your advisor each year, to help ensure that your financial plan is well-tuned as you prepare to turn the page on 2018.
Kyne is a partner at Sterling Manor Financial, LLC in Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck.