The end of the year is a great time to revisit your finances and build a plan for next year.
This year, particularly, may have brought some changes to your financial plan. In a year marked by “The Great Resignation” in the labor market, millions of Americans took an opportunity to rethink their careers, go for that big promotion or land a new job altogether. A career shift is a big opportunity, but it can also mean big changes for your financial picture. If your career pivoted in 2021, there may be a few loose ends to tie together before year’s end.
Regardless, of whether your career took a pivot or not, this is the time to recalibrate and set yourself up on firm financial footing for next year. Here are a few things to consider as part of your year-end planning.
BIG JOB CHANGE?
If you experienced a job change in 2021, here are a few things to consider.
Avoid a tax surprise from unemployment benefits: If you lost your job at some point this year and collected unemployment compensation, you’ll need to report it on your 2021 tax return unless you filled out a W-4V form from the IRS for voluntary withholding. If you didn’t, taxes may not have been withheld from those checks. If you received unemployment compensation this year, you may want to talk with your tax adviser now, so you aren’t hit with an unwanted surprise on your tax bill for the year.
Another common under-withholding risk: Even if you didn’t receive benefits, double-check to ensure you’re withholding correctly. People with multiple children, and those who earn non-wage income or are self-employed are more likely to under-withhold. If you fall into one of these categories, you may need to increase your W-2 federal withholding amount in preparation for a tax bill or to avoid the under-withholding tax penalty.
Additionally, taking or opting out of the monthly Advance Child Tax Credit, new for 2021, could also impact tax withholding.
Review your insurance policies: If you landed a promotion or changed your job in 2021, you may have more to protect today. Take a moment to line up your life or other insurance policies to account for your new lifetime income expectations and assets. Along the same line: If your home appreciated in value (as many homes have in 2021), you may need more protection.
In general, it’s worthwhile reviewing your insurance levels if you experienced any big life change this year. Did you have a child? Did you get married? If so, you may need to update beneficiaries on your existing policies or your coverage.
CHECK YOUR INVESTMENTS
Investing for growth is a key component of building a retirement nest egg. While you may not be tapping your investments for a long time, there are a few things to check each year.
Rebalance your portfolio: Depending on what happened in markets through the year, your portfolio’s asset allocation (the mix of stocks, bonds and other investments) may no longer reflect a level of risk that’s appropriate for your goals. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring your investment holdings back in line with your risk tolerance and goals.
Transfer a 401(k) from your prior employer: If you switched jobs this year, don’t forget to bring your old 401(k) along with you. You can transfer assets in your 401(k) into your current employer's retirement services, or you could transfer it to your own brokerage. However, you’ll want to do this properly to ensure you aren’t hit with a tax liability for an unintentional withdrawal (here’s how to do it).
Recognize capital gains or losses: Selling investments at a loss can reduce your taxable income for the year — it’s known as tax-loss harvesting. Depending on your situation, you may also want to sell investments that have appreciated and realize those gains. You may want to work with a financial planner or tax attorney to think strategically about capital gains or losses.
Final retirement contributions: If your budget allows, take advantage of the maximum allowable contribution to an IRA, 401(k) or Roth if those are available to you. The tax advantages these accounts offer can help you make your money go further over time.
REVISIT YOUR BUDGET
A little planning can help your budget go a long way. Take time at year’s end to review your budget and craft a plan for next year.
Revise or establish your budget: Review 2021 spending and create a budget for 2022 and beyond. Your budget keeps you financially accountable so you can prioritize the things that are most important to you. A financial advisor can help you build a budget as part of a broader financial plan.
Review your emergency fund: If possible, replenish your emergency fund or get one started if you haven’t already. Aim to stash three to six months’ worth of expenses in an account that you can access in a pinch. If your family grew, or you have more assets or expenses, you might want to adjust that total amount. Having these funds in reserve can help you cover surprise expenses, such as a blown furnace or medical expense, without utilizing credit or dipping into long-term savings.
Consider refinancing your mortgage: With interest rates still historically low, you could lower your monthly mortgage bill and free up some room in the budget. You could also keep your payments the same but pay off your house faster and pay less interest over time.
Prep for big events: We can’t predict the future, but we can plan for weddings, surgeries, vacations, buying a car or home. If you’re planning a big-ticket expense in the coming year, carve that into your budget and start setting aside money.
Check your credit: Many consumer finance companies provide free, real-time credit scores. If you have access, check your score; and make sure it’s where you want it to be (typically 740 and higher is considered very good). Also, request a copy of your credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit reporting companies to provide a free copy once every 12 months. While we’re on credit: If you’ve accumulated credit card reward points use them before they expire!
Dig into health care: November and into December is typically open enrollment time for health coverage. Make sure you set aside time to review your health plan. If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) you could top off annual contributions to maximize the triple tax advantages — money goes in tax free, grows tax free and comes out tax free for qualified healthcare expenses. If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), consider spending the funds that won’t be carried over to next year as you may lose them otherwise.
This isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list, given everyone’s financial picture is different. However, it’s a good start. Simply getting this process started at the end of the year may reveal opportunities or areas for improvement you hadn’t considered for the year. As we enter the holiday season, consider making this financial check-up another annual tradition.
This publication is not intended as legal or tax advice. Consult with a tax professional for tax advice that is specific to your situation.