Brian Thompson, Senior Contributor
Dec. 10, 2020
2020 is almost over, and for many of you, it can’t end soon enough. There will be plenty of time to celebrate the end of one year and to hope for better days in the one ahead. But before we get to that, take these steps to get financially ready for 2021.
1) Review your goals : The end of the year is a great time to review the goals you made at the beginning of the year and set new ones for 2021. How did you do this year? Is there anything you’re proud of accomplishing? I like to start with bright spots because they can guide you toward success as you set new goals. But let’s be realistic, too; 2020 threw us a lot of curveballs. Was there anything you wish you could have done better? You can also learn from any potential stumbling blocks and figure out how to use them as stepping-stones next year. You may also want to take time now to review your net worth. That’s one way to gauge the progress you’ve made in your financial health this year.
2) Update your budget : Did you save the money that you wanted to? Pay off the debt that you needed to? The end of the year gives you a solid end point to assess whether met the goals you set at the outset of 2020. What if you didn’t have a budget or financial goals? You’ve got a blank slate ahead. Why not create a budget that works?
3) Create a holiday bucket : Holidays can be budget breakers, so why not incorporate them into your spending goals right from the start? Christmas may look a lot different this year. But you can still create a separate bucket for holiday spending and when that money is gone, stop spending. You’ll thank yourself in January when you don’t have an unusually large credit card bill.
4) Use it or lose it: Some of your benefits—like vacation days or a medical or dependent care flexible spending account (FSA)—expire at the end of the year. Take stock of what you have left and use these benefits to your advantage.
5) Make any last charitable contributions : December 31st is the last day your charitable contributions can be deducted on your 2020 tax return. If giving to charity is a part of your spending plan, you can use these questions to help make the most of your charitable giving.
6) Pump up your 529: Just like charitable contributions, contributions to your 529 college savings plan must be made by December 31 st to count for this tax year. Find out if your state is one of over 30 that allow you to deduct your contribution. You can find the specific deduction here. If your state is one of the four that allow an unlimited deduction, keep in mind the yearly gift-tax and super-funding rules.
7) Max out your 401k : While you have until April to make contributions to your traditional IRA, Roth IRA and HSA, you can only contribute to your 401k through December 31 st . So, if you have extra cash and are looking to boost your savings, consider contributing your last couple of checks entirely to your 401k. Business owners can do the same with the employee portion of your Solo 401k contributions .
8) Find your tax return : You’ll be doing your taxes before you know it, so use this time to get prepared. Review last year’s return and make a mental list of records you’ll need to assemble. Year-end is also a good time to decide whether a Roth conversion makes sense for you.
9) Review your business structure: Evaluate your business structure and the QBI deduction to identify any changes you need to make to your business. You might want to set up a solo 401k, for instance, and if so, you’ll have to act before December 31 st (although you can make employer/profit sharing contributions up to the business tax filing deadline).
10) Defer income and incur expenses : If you’re a business owner, you may also want to look at ways to defer income into 2021 or pay for business expenses you anticipate for early next year. This is any easy way to reduce your tax liability for 2020. However, remember not to spend money on business expenses that you wouldn’t otherwise incur just for a tax deduction. Spending a $1 to save 24 cents still costs you 76 cents.
11) Will and trust review : The end of the year is a good time to take stock of changes in your life—like getting married or divorced, having children, starting a business or retiring. Your estate plan should reflect these changes. Get out your will, documentation for trusts you’ve established and powers of attorney and make sure they match your current situation.
12) Insurance documents: Insurance documents also need to cover your current situation. Take a look at your life and disability insurance policies to make sure they protect your current income and those dependent on it. Your renters or homeowners insurance should cover any additional big purchases you made during the year. And lastly, you should review your health insurance policy for any upcoming changes for 2020. For those of you enrolling in the Market Place, you have until December 15 th to pick your plan.
My last bonus task is to enjoy this holiday season. I love the holidays because you can reflect and appreciate what you have. We’ve been tested a lot this year, living our lives through a pandemic, racial unrest and a contentious election. I hope the end of the year brings you comfort and peace.
By Brian Thompson, Senior Contributor
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