For many people, December is a time of reflection to look back on the past year and make plans for the new year ahead. Many people also resolve to make positive changes in their lives. In this spirit, the end of the year is the perfect time to take a look at a year’s worth of finances and make adjustments and plans for next year. (It also gives you a head start on tax season, which will be here before you know it!)
We’ve rounded up some top tips to help you check all the boxes on your end-of-year financial checklist.
Analyze your spending
How much money did you spend in 2023? Take a close look at all your accounts, expenses and bills to get a clear picture of how you allocated your spending. Did you take a bucket list vacation, funnel money into a college savings account, tackle a home improvement project, or just go out to eat a couple of times a week?
Also, consider any big life changes like marriage, divorce, a new baby, etc. Major life events can have a huge impact on your financial plan.
Once you have a solid understanding of your 2023 finances, see where you can adjust for 2024. That could mean spending less in certain areas of your life, increasing your regular contributions to a retirement account, or saving for a big purchase, like a new car.
Examine employee benefits
For most companies, benefits open enrollment falls toward the end of the year. This is a great time to review your current benefits, particularly retirement savings. For 2023, the maximum 401(k) contribution was $22,500, plus an additional $7,500 if you’re over 50. The maximum IRA contribution was $6,500, plus $1,000 if you’re 50+.
How did you stack up this year? Did you max out your contributions? Are you at least contributing as much as the employee match? If you can afford to, try to increase your monthly contribution next year. Also, look at allocations; are you satisfied with the ratio of stocks and bonds?
Many employee benefit plans also offer health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible spending accounts (FSA). Did you put any money into these accounts? How much of that money did you use, and what did you use it for? Remember: HSA contributions do not expire, but money in FSAs must be used by the end of the year.
Finally, now is a good time to update your beneficiaries and ensure your money ends up with the people you choose.
Prepare for tax day
April 15 will be here before you know it. Get ahead of the game by identifying any life events like marriage, divorce, births, deaths, and retirement that could affect your withholding status. An accountant can help you review any taxable transactions, deductible expenses, charitable gifts and more that might impact your taxes.
Investing is a long game, but it never hurts to look at your allocations and determine if you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Are certain assets under- or over-performing? Are you comfortable with riskier investments, or are you ready for a more steady, conservative approach? Keep in mind that capital gains and investment losses can make a big impact on your taxes. When in doubt, speak to an investment professional who can help steer you in the right direction.
Assess charitable contributions
Charitable contributions aren’t just a nice gesture—they’re also tax deductible. Did you maximize your charitable contributions in 2023? Did you donate any assets, like a pre-owned vehicle? To learn more about charitable contributions and how they impact your taxes, speak with an accountant or tax advisor.
Debt is part of life, but it’s how you manage it that matters. Are you carrying any credit card debt? Student loans? Auto loans? The end of the year is the perfect time to take a close look at your debt, interest rates, loan positions and more. Have you made any progress paying things down (or, even better, off)? Are you able to consolidate any loans or negotiate for lower interest rates in 2024?
The key is to balance your financial goals, and that includes paying down debt.
Consider estate planning
Wills, trusts, and estate planning aren’t always the most comfortable topics of discussion, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important. The end of the year is a good time to review these types of planning documents, particularly for beneficiaries and trustee designations. You may want to name a corporate trustee or co-trustee who can remain objective when administering a trust.
Ensure you’re insured
Last but not least, examine your insurance policies and coverage. Are you getting the most out of your policies? Are they still worthwhile? Is your coverage sufficient for your needs? As with estate planning, this is a good time to make sure your beneficiaries are up to date.
Still have questions about year-end financial planning? Contact WaterStone Bank for more information.
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