Review insurance and beneficiaries. Let’s be sure you are adequately covered. At the same time, it’s a good idea to update beneficiaries if the need has arisen.
2.Review your income or portfolio strategy
Are you reaching a milestone in your life such as retirement or a change in your circumstances? Has your tolerance for taking risk changed? If so, this may be just the right time to evaluate your approach. However, let me caution you about making changes based simply on market performance.
One of my goals has always been to remove the emotional component from the investment plan. You know, the one that encourages investors to load up on stocks when the market is soaring or one that prods us to sell when volatility surfaces.
3.Use any remaining balances in you flexible spending account
Make sure you use up any remaining funds in your health spending accounts, flexible spending accounts for child care and dependent care and transportation accounts. Typically, the expenses you are reimbursing yourself for must have occurred in 2018.Some plans may allow you to roll funds over for use in 2019 or allow you to use 2018 dollars to pay for expenses that you incur in 2019.
4.Carry out transactions that can lower your 2018 taxes.
Check on medical expenses and other tax deductions that you can take this year. You can only deduct certain expenses after they exceed a certain percentage of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) — e.g., medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of your AGI — so you may want to accelerate those payments into this year or push them out until next year.
5.Mind the tax loss deadline
You have until Monday, December 31 to harvest any tax losses and/or offset any capital gains. But be careful. There are distinctions between short- and long-term capital gains, and you must be aware of wash-sale rules (IRS Publication 550) that could disallow a capital loss. It may be advantageous to time sales in order to maximize tax benefits this year or next. We may also want to book gains and offset any losses.
6.Don't miss the RMD deadline
Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are minimum amounts a retirement plan account owner must withdraw annually, generally starting with the year that he or she reaches 70½ years of age. Some plans may provide exceptions if you are still working. The first payment can be delayed until April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½. For all subsequent years, including the year in which you were paid the first RMD by April 1, you must take the RMD by December 31.
The RMD rules apply to traditional IRAs, SEP IRAs. Simple IRAs, 401(k), profit-sharing, 403(b), 457(b) or other defined contribution plans. They do not apply to ROTH IRAs.
Don’t miss the deadline or you could be subject to steep penalties.
7.Maximize retirement plan contributions at work
Make sure you put as much as you can into your employer-based retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. You can contribute up to $18,500, or $24,500 if you are 50 or older.
8.Contribute to a Roth IRA or traditional IRA
A Roth gives you the potential to earn tax-free growth (not just deferred tax-free growth) and allows for federal-tax-free withdrawals if certain requirements are met. You may also be eligible to contribute to a traditional IRA, and contributions may be fully or partially deductible, depending on your circumstances. Total contributions for both accounts cannot exceed the prescribed limit.
There are income limits, but if you qualify, you may contribute $5,500, or $6,500 if you are 50 or older. In 2019, limits will rise to $6,000 and $7000, respectively.
You can make 2018 IRA contributions until April 15, 2018 (Note: state holidays can impact final date).
9.If you are in business for yourself, set up a solo 401(k).
If you're ready to save more than $5,500 or $6,500 [50+] then you can consider a solo-k. These accounts are also known as a Solo 401(k), Solo-k, Uni-k, One-participant k. This can help you save a great deal on taxes and maximize your retirement savings. You must set these accounts up by Dec. 31.
10.Consider college savings
A 529 plan allows for very high contribution limits, and earnings are not subject to federal tax when used for the qualified education expenses of the designated beneficiary. Contributions to both accounts are not tax deductible in California.
11.Wrap up charitable giving
Whether it is cash, stocks or bonds, you can donate to your favorite charity by December 31, potentially offsetting any income.
Did you know that you may qualify for what’s called a “qualified charitable distribution (QCD)” if you are over 70½ years old? A QCD is an otherwise taxable distribution from an IRA or inherited IRA that is paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity (“End-Of-Year Contribution and Distribution Planning for Tax-Favored Accounts”–Kitces.com).
This becomes even more valuable in light of tax reform as more taxpayers will no longer be able to itemize, and an RMD that is taken, then donated to a charity, may not provide tax benefits.
Given the increase in the standard deduction and limits on state income and property taxes, annual year-end gifts to your favorite charity may not exceed the higher thresholds. Therefore, you may consider giving an annual gift in early January. Coupled with an annual gift next December, you might reap the tax advantages from itemizing in 2019. You might also consider a donor-advised fund. Once the donation is made, you can generally realize immediate tax benefits, but it is up to the donor when the distribution to a qualified charity may be made.