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Year-End Checklist: Financial Items to Review by December 31st  

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In the whirlwind month of December, the last thing most people feel like undertaking in the midst of the holiday craziness is sorting through financial matters. Many typically reserve the start of the new year as the time to get these items in order. However, scheduling a review with your financial advisor to examine your financial well-being before the year-end could be even more beneficial.

To keep you and your busy schedule in check, here are several financial items worth reviewing before December 31st:

1) Health Insurance Considerations:

  • Open enrollment. A productive habit to adopt is assessing your insurance policies each December. For health insurance specifically, the end of the year marks the time for open enrollment. If you need to switch, modify or enroll in a plan, now is the time to do so. December 15, 2017 is the last day to enroll or change plans for coverage for a January 1, 2018 start.
  • Flexible Savings Account. For those of you with a flexible savings account (FSA), the end of the year is the time to either use what is in the account (schedule that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off) or learn your employer’s protocol for leftover funds. Some employers offer a grace period or rollover up to a certain dollar amount for remaining funds in these accounts.

2) Retirement and Investment Considerations:

  • 401(k) Contributions. Review your contributions throughout the past year and determine if you have the capacity to increase these (if necessary) throughout the end of the year. Annual contribution limits set for individuals under 50 are $18,000 and $24,000 for those over 50.1 For 2018, these limits will increase to $18,500 for those under 50 and $24,500 for those over 50.2 If you are unable to reach the maximum limit, try to increase your contributions to at least meet your employer’s maximum match for the year.

  • Required Minimum Distributions. A Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) is the minimum amount that must be withdrawn from select retirement plan accounts once you turn 70 ½. “Investors with Traditional IRAs or other types of employer sponsored retirement plans may be required to begin taking distributions from these funds upon age 70 ½,” says Ericka Schaefer, Investment Specialist at North Star Resource Group. “The amount of the distribution is calculated based on IRS guidelines that take the account owner’s age and account value into consideration. Individuals who have inherited retirement assets may also be required to receive annual distributions from their Inherited IRAs prior to December 31st.” If you are unsure when to take your RMD, contact your advisor to ensure you meet the deadline.

  • Qualified Retirement Plans. Both individuals with a qualified retirement plan and business-owners offering plans have opportunities to consider before year-end—consult your financial advisor for specifics. “Individuals who take advantage of qualified retirement plans through their employer may decide to fully fund these plans via elective deferrals. Depending on the type of plan, a December 31st deadline may exist for these contributions,” says Schaefer. Additionally: “Business owners may be looking for tax-advantaged ways to save for retirement or provide their employees with additional benefits. Many qualified retirement plan types have a December 31st deadline imposed. Your advisor can help you decide which plan best fits your needs.”

3) Charitable Donations and Gifting:

  • Charitable Contributions. December 31st marks the deadline to include your charitable contribution on April’s tax return. In order to cut your tax bill and give back at the same time, be sure to retain detailed records, such as a bank or payroll deduction record or detailed written communication of your contribution. If you are interested in giving back but need some help getting started, read this article on how to get involved.     
  • 529 Plan Contributions. 529 Plans are tax-advantaged investment vehicles that encourage saving for higher education expenses. Consider contributing to a college-funding account this holiday season: “Parents, grandparents and other family members may find a contribution to an educational account more fulfilling than another toy or video game,” says Schaefer. “In some states, contributions may be state tax-deductible, so this gift benefits both the receiver and the giver!”

  • Charitable IRA Distributions. If you are over 70 ½, you may consider contributing to a qualified charitable organization directly from your IRA. “Older individuals who receive Required Minimum Distributions from their IRAs may find themselves in receipt of more cash flow than is necessary to sustain their lifestyle,” says Schaefer. “To exclude these excess funds from annual income, the account owner may wish to perform a tax-free Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).”

  • Annual Gifting. “Gifts of cash or investments totaling up to $14,000 per receiver are excluded from the federal gift tax. High Net Worth Gift-givers may decide to reduce their assets via the annual gift tax exclusion prior to their death,” says Schaefer.

4) Other Essentials:

  • Review your budget. Find a time this month to sit down and review you or your household’s budget for 2017. Mark down what worked, what didn’t work and any thoughts you have on revising the budget for 2018, if necessary.
  • Assess your estate documents. These are critical to check on at least an annual basis, especially if the past year has involved a major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, or any new children or grandchildren. Items to review include your will, trusts and beneficiary forms.  

These items can be both time consuming and confusing to charter on your own. To make checking these items off your to-do list a lot less stressful, schedule an annual review with your financial advisor. Need help finding an advisor? Find someone in your area here.

By carving some time out of your busy December schedule to take action on these items, you and your family will be set for a productive and organized start to the new year come January 1st.

Written by North Star Resource Group.

Source:

1IRS. “IRS Announces 2017 Pension Plan Limitations; 401(k) Contribution Limit Remains Unchanged at $18,000 for 2017.” IRS Newswire, https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/irs-announces-2017-pension-plan-limitations-401k-contribution-limit-remains-unchanged-at-18000-for-2017. Accessed 23 November 2016.

2IRS. "IRS Announces 2018 Pension Plan Limitations; 401(k) Contribution Limit Increases to $18,500 for 2018." IRW Newswire, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-announces-2018-pension-plan-limitations-401k-contribution-limit-increases-to-18500-for-2018. Accessed 9 November 2017.

Financial Advisors do not provide specific tax or legal advice.  This information should not be considered as specific tax or legal advice. You should consult your tax or legal advisor regarding your own specific tax or legal situation.

North Star Consultants, Inc. - Insurance Products and Services. CRI Securities, LLC – Securities and Investments. Securian Financial Services, Inc. - Variable Products and Securities. North Star Resource Group offers securities and investment advisory services through CRI Securities, LLC and Securian Financial Services, Inc. CRI Securities, LLC is affiliated with Securian Financial Services, Inc. Members FINRA/SIPC. North Star Resource Group is not affiliated with Securian Financial Services, Inc. North Star Resource Group is independently owned and operated. North Star Resource Group| 2701 University Ave SE | Minneapolis, MN 55414. 1654750/DOFU 12-2016

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