Financial Items to Check Off Your List Before the End of 2018

November 26, 2018 11:18 am

Christine H. Canapari, ChFC®

Senior Financial Advisor

We are approaching the end of another year.  The next month will be filled with celebrations, shopping and other holiday festivities, but it’s also time to take a last look at your finances before the end of the year to make sure you are taking advantage of money saving opportunities before they are lost.  Because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that went into effect this year, many Americans may find themselves in different tax situations making planning even more critical.  Here are five financial items that should be addressed before you ring in 2019.

Max Out Retirement Contributions
You only have about a month before the end of the year to make retirement plan deferrals from your salary.  If you haven’t maxed out your 401(k), 403(b) or other employee savings plan yet, now is the time.  The maximum 401(k) contribution for 2018 is $18,500 with an additional catch-up allowance of $6,000 for investors age fifty or older.  Unlike Traditional or Roth IRA contributions that can be made up through April 15th for the previous year, 401(k) and 403(b) contributions are based on a calendar year.  Working with your human resources department should allow you to make the changes necessary to reach the maximum contribution for the year.  In general, I recommend spreading out the contributions throughout the year especially for budgeting and matching purposes, but sometimes exact calculations are not possible. A good practice is to check your contribution amounts throughout the year and make adjustments as necessary.

Now is also the time to plan for next year.  If you plan on maxing out 2019 contributions, you will most likely need to make changes to your salary deferrals.  Due to the cost of living adjustment, the IRS has announced increases for 2019 contributions into 401(k), 403(b) and other employee savings plans.  The maximum contribution for 2019 into such plans is $19,000, and the catch-up allowance remains at $6,000 for employees age fifty and over.

Medical and Health Planning
There are three areas to consider with medical insurance and health care.  The first area is dependent on whether your health insurance coverage runs on a calendar year and has a deductible and determining if you have met your deductible for the year.  If your deductible is met, you may want to consider having any medical tests or procedures done before the end of the year, so that they will be covered under your plan rather than waiting until next year when the deductible resets.  Planning in this area is particularly important as high deductible health plans become more prevalent.  The second area depends on whether you will be able to deduct your medical expenses for income tax purposes.  A similar type of strategy applies here.  If you know that your medical expenses are going to qualify as an itemized deduction, you may want to go ahead with making that purchase of medical equipment or having that procedure or test you have been delaying done now because you know you will be able to deduct it.  Due to the TCJA, itemizing may no longer be an option unless your itemized deductions total more than the increased standard deduction.  The third area is for those with a medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA).  Make sure to spend the money in your FSA by the end of the year (or by the end of the grace period) to avoid losing it.

Use Capital Losses to Offset Gains
If you have capital losses for the year or are carrying forward losses from previous years, you may want to consider selling highly appreciated positions and others in order to utilize those losses and offset capital gains.  The end of the year is a great time to take one last look to see if this makes sense for you.  Like many financial decisions, avoiding taxes should not be the sole reason to act.  Clearly, evaluating your holdings and the reasons you own them should also be considered.

Charitable Giving
The holiday season is a great time to share with others.  Not only is charitable giving very gratifying for the giver but it may also provide income tax savings if you itemize deductions.  Donations made to qualifying charities or organizations are eligible, but donations made to individuals are not deductible.  Be sure to keep detailed records of your donations.  Most charities will provide written documentation of your donation amount for tax purposes.  Donating highly appreciated stock can also be a highly tax efficient way to give.  Capital gains tax on the stock is avoided while also obtaining a deduction for the donation.  If you are unable to itemize due to the TCJA, you may wish to consolidate your donations into a year when your deductions exceed the standard deduction.  Donor Advised Funds may also help with this strategy.

Gifting
Gifting will not immediately save you money on taxes but could provide tax savings to your estate in the future.  If your estate is large enough and will be subject to estate taxes at your death, gifting is a valuable method to employ now to reduce your estate.  There is an annual limit to the amount that you may gift an individual so that the gift is not subject to gift taxes.  For 2018 and 2019, the limit is $15,000 per person.  You may make as many gifts as you like, and they will not be subject to gift or estate tax if they are within the annual exclusion gift limit.  There are exceptions to the annual exclusion and those are for direct payments made for someone’s medical bills or school tuition.  There is no limit to the amount you may pay for someone’s medical bills or tuition as long as the payment is made directly to the institution.  Gifting can be a rewarding way to help loved ones and save on future potential tax costs.

It’s easy to see that with all these financial tasks that planning is the key to ensure you are utilizing all of your money saving strategies to the fullest.  Take the time now to establish your goals for next year and map out your personal action plan for 2019.  It’s not too late to take advantage of opportunities this year if you act fast.

Chrissy Canapari, ChFC® serves as Senior Financial Advisor and Manager of Client Services at StrategicPoint Investment Advisors in Providence and East Greenwich. You can e-mail her at ccanapari@strategicpoint.com.

The information contained in this post is not intended as investment, tax or legal advice. StrategicPoint Investment Advisors assumes no responsibility for any action or inaction resulting from the contents herein. Chrissy’s opinions and comments expressed on this site are her own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm. Third party content does not reflect the view of the firm and is not reviewed for completeness or accuracy. It is provided for ease of reference.