7 Money Moves To Make Before the End of the Year
It may not be tax season yet, but it pays to get a head start
As the year comes to a close, you’ll be busy celebrating the holidays and ringing in the New Year with family and friends. So the idea of spending some quality time with your finances probably isn’t on the top of your priority list.
But it can pay — literally — to tackle these seven financial to-dos before the end of the year. Not only will you be more organized for tax season, you may pay less in taxes, and you’ll have a better understanding of your financial picture.
Estimate next year's income. If you expect to earn less money than you did this year, your tax rate next year may be lower. So take advantage. Try to shift some of this year's income into next year if possible because you'll pay less taxes on it. Likewise, try to shift some of next year's expenses into this year, when your deductions will be worth more. More things to consider:
- If your employer pays a holiday bonus, ask them to defer it until January.
- If you work for yourself, hold off billing your clients.
- Make some of next year's scheduled contributions to tax-deferred retirement accounts now, within the allowable limits.
- Pay any current tax-deductible bills, such as medical and school expenses, promptly.
If you predict next year's income will be higher than this year's, do just the opposite. Shift as much of your expected January income into December, put off paying deductible expenses or selling losing investments (see below) until after the holidays.
Sell off losing investments before the end of the year for a Capital Loss deduction. The deduction will help offset taxes you have to pay on winning investments.
This strategy is called “tax loss harvesting.” It works only under certain circumstances, so go about it carefully, advises Fidelity Investments. For instance, don't sell off a solid investment for taxes just because it's temporarily down in price. Instead, do your harvesting at the same time you rebalance your overall portfolio, which will help you to make good, long-term decisions.
Update your W-4. If you work as an employee, you filled out IRS Form W-4 when you were hired. This helps your employer calculate how much to withhold from your paycheck for taxes.
If you've had any of the following life changes, tell your employer and ask for a new W-4, according to Intuit.
- You or your spouse get (or lose) a second job, start a business or see a change in your overall income levels.
- You marry, divorce, have a baby or adopt a child. This changes the number of “allowances” the IRS uses to reduce your tax burden. Plus, you might qualify for the Child Care Tax Credit or other tax breaks.
- Do you perform seasonal or project-based work, or are you unemployed for part of the year? Consider increasing the number of allowances to lower your withholding.
Intuit has an online calculator to help you determine how you should adjust your W-4.
Find a tax preparer. Start the search for a trusted professional early — don't put it off just because tax season hasn't yet begun. Look for one with at least seven years of experience preparing returns, during both good and bad economic conditions, advises Consumer Reports. The IRS has a directory of federal tax return preparers that allows you to search for credentialed tax specialists in your community.
Then start gathering your financial records, including medical bills and expense records, to give to your preparer when the time comes.
Buy health insurance. Open enrollment in the “Obamacare” marketplace exchanges began on November 1. If you’re buying health insurance, there are several critical deadlines between now and the end of January, so don't delay. If you fail to enroll in a plan or make the necessary updates to your income and household information, you could end up with a big tax bill in 2017.
Stick to a holiday budget. Make sure that after buying presents, hosting dinners, decorating the house and going on trips to see family, you'll have enough cash in the bank to cover your regular January expenses. Financial planners recommend budgeting no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income for holiday expenses, according to the University of Nebraska and other sources.
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