“Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.” This ancient advice from Proverbs illustrates the importance of financial fitness.
What is financial fitness? Well, we are all familiar with the term physical fitness. If pressed for a definition, we might define it in terms of our own ideas and circumstances.
When it comes to an explanation of financial fitness, the same applies. A lot may simply depend on the season you are in. Financial fitness might mean something different to someone who is single versus a couple with young kids, an empty-nester or a retiree.
Even within those demographics, one’s perception could be colored by personal circumstances. Are you saddled with debt, debt-free, renting or a homeowner?
There are many ways to get ahold of your finances; you can increase earnings, lower spending, start saving more (short-term and longer-term) and implement debt management. For many, earnings are difficult to influence in the short-term. For most, tackling the spending side of the equation will yield the quickest results. Below we consider six principles that will help you get into financially fit shape wherever you find yourself in life.
6 principles for financial fitness
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”—Benjamin Franklin
Absorbing the fundamentals—the foundation for success
Those who fail to put sound principles into practice are like those who build their homes on sand. The rains come and the winds blow, and financial misfortune overtakes them.
Wisdom encourages us to build our homes on a solid financial foundation. Though the rains come and the winds blow (and they will), the house and foundation are designed to withstand the financial storms.
Every situation is unique. You may have mastered the fundamentals, and only need to apply the principles I've highlighted selectively, plugging small holes and shoring up your finances. Or a more aggressive approach might be in order. Focus on one theme at a time. Some may apply. Others may not.
Having said all that, I never want to give the impression that you are all alone on a financial lifeboat. I’m always here to assist
The holidays are a busy time of year. Shopping, family events, company holiday parties and more may dot your calendar. But I suggest that you carve out some time for year-end financial planning so that you will be better positioned as the new year begins.
9 smart planning moves for year-end
1. Review your financial plan. Long-term data and my own personal experience tell me that the shortest distance between investors and their financial goals is adherence to a well-diversified, holistic financial plan. I stress that investors must take a long-term view, but I also recognize that 2022 has been a challenging year. As we build your financial plan, we tailor it to your specific goals.
How might you set goals?
They should be:
Relevant (to your situation), and attainable within a specific
These are SMART goals.
An adaptable plan
A financial plan is never set in concrete. It is a work in progress which can and should be adjusted as your life evolves.
Are you reaching a milestone in your life such as retirement? Has there been another upcoming change in your personal circumstances? Whether you have welcomed a new baby or an adopted child into your family, a hearty congratulations is in order— but it’s also time to look at the financial side of the equation.
Did you become a grandparent or are there new grandchildren in your family?
A job change, job loss, marriage, or divorce are also events that usually warrant revisiting your financial plan.
When stocks tumble, some investors become very anxious. When stocks post strong returns, others feel invincible and are ready to load up on riskier assets. I caution against making portfolio changes that are simply based on market action.
Remember, the financial plan is the roadmap to your financial goals. In part, it is designed to remove the emotional component that may compel you to buy or sell at inopportune times.
That said, has your tolerance for risk changed in light of this year’s volatility? If so, let’s talk.
2. Harvest your losses and reduce your income taxes. Let’s look at strategies for taxable accounts. If you have gains from the sale of stock, you may decide to sell underperforming equities for a loss and offset up to $3,000 in ordinary income.
For example, if you sold a stock you have held one year or less and realized a profit of $30,000 and you sold a stock held for one year or less and took a loss of $35,000, you would not only pay no taxes on the $30,000 gain, but you could offset ordinary income of up to $3,000 in 2022 (married couples filing separately limited to $1,500).
You would carry forward $2,000 into 2023.
Losses on investments are used to offset capital gains of the same type. In other words, short-term losses offset short-term gains and long-term losses offset long-term gains.
An asset held for one-year or less is a short-term gain or loss. Anything more than a year is long-term.
But don’t run afoul of wash-sale rules. The wash-sale rule prevents you from taking a loss on an investment if you buy the same or a “substantially identical” investment 30 days before or after the sale.
3. Tax loss deadline. You have until December 31 to harvest any tax losses and/or offset any capital gains.
Did you know that you pay no federal taxes on a long-term capital gain if your taxable income is less than or equal to $40,400 for single or $80,800 for married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)?
Therefore, it may be worth taking a long-term capital gain. Simply put, you sell the stock, take the profit, and pay no federal income tax. And you could re-invest in the stock, upping your cost basis.
But be careful.
The sale will raise your adjusted gross income (AGI), which means you’ll probably pay state income tax on the long-term gain.
In addition, by raising what’s called your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), you could also impact various tax deductions, impact taxes on Social Security, or receive a smaller ACA premium tax credit if you obtain your health insurance from the Marketplace.
Or you might trigger a higher Medicare premium, as premiums are also based on your MAGI.
4. Mutual funds and taxable distributions. This is best explained using an example.
If you buy a mutual fund in a taxable account on December 15 and it pays its annual dividend and capital gain on December 20, you will be responsible for paying taxes on the entire yearly distribution, even though you held the fund for just five days.
It’s a tax sting that’s best avoided because the net asset value (NAV) hasn’t changed. It’s usually a good idea to wait until after the annual distribution to make the purchase.
Given the volatility in trading this year, some actively managed funds may have large taxable distributions, even though the NAV of the fund may be down since the beginning of the year.
5. It’s time to take your RMD. If you are 72 years or older, an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) is required from most retirement accounts.
If you turned 72 this year, you have until April 1, 2023, to take your first RMD. That will reduce your taxable income in 2022, but you will be required to take two RMDs in 2023, potentially pushing you into a higher tax bracket next year.
If you miss the deadline, you could be subject to a 50% penalty on the portion of your RMD you failed to withdraw.
For all subsequent years, including the year in which you took your first RMD by April 1, you must take your RMD by December 31.
The RMD rules apply to traditional IRAs and IRA-based plans such as SEPs, SARSEPs, and SIMPLE IRAs. The RMD rules apply to all employer-sponsored retirement plans, including profit-sharing plans, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and 457(b) plans.
The RMD is also required from a Roth 401(k) account. However, the RMD rules do not apply to Roth IRAs while the owner is alive.
Generally, an RMD is calculated for each account by dividing the prior December 31 balance of that IRA or retirement plan account by a life expectancy factor published by the IRS.
If you continue working past age 72, you are still required to take your RMD from your IRA.
If, however, you continue to work past age 72 and do not own more than 5% of the business you work for, most qualified plans, such as 401(s) plans, allow you to postpone RMDs from your current employer's plan until no later than April 1 of the year after you finally stop working.
6. Maximize retirement contributions. By adding to your 401(k) plan, you can reduce income taxes during the current year. In 2022, the maximum contribution for 401(k)s and similar plans is $20,500 ($27,000 if age 50 or older, if permitted by the plan).
The limit on a Simple 401(k) plan is $14,000 in 2022 ($17,000 if 50 or older).
For 2022, the maximum you can contribute to an IRA is $6,000 ($7,000 if you are 50 or older). Contributions may be fully or partially deductible.
A Roth IRA won’t allow you to take a tax deduction in the year of the contribution, but it 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.
Total contributions for both accounts cannot exceed the prescribed limit.
You can contribute if you (or your spouse if filing jointly) have taxable compensation.
You can make 2022 IRA contributions until April 18, 2023 (Note: statewide holidays can impact the final date).
7. Convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The decline in the stock and bond markets has taken a toll on most retirement accounts. However, this may be the time to partially or fully convert the reduced value of the account into a Roth IRA.
You’ll pay ordinary income taxes on the converted portion of the IRA. But going forward, you won’t have an RMD requirement (based on current law), growth is tax-deferred, and if you meet certain requirements, you’ll avoid federal income taxes when you withdraw the funds.
A Roth may make sense if you won’t need the money for several years, you believe you’ll be in the same or higher tax bracket at retirement, and you won’t need to use retirement funds to pay the taxes.
Once converted, you cannot ‘recharacterize’ (convert back to a traditional IRA). The deadline to convert is December 31.
8. 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 70½ or older?
A QCD is an otherwise taxable distribution from an IRA or inherited IRA that is paid directly from the IRA to a qualified charity. It may be especially advantageous if you do not itemize deductions.
It may be counted toward your RMD, up to $100,000. If you file jointly, you and your spouse can make a $100,000 QCD from your IRA accounts.
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.
9. Finally, take stock of changes in your life and review insurance. 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.
I trust you’ve found these planning tips to be useful, and if there are any that you would like some help with, I am always here to assist. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or you may want to check in with your tax preparer.
Are you getting a tax refund this year? Plenty of folks are. Much like trivia, running through the IRS data is always interesting…at least for those who love diving into the minutiae. So here are some tax facts for the 2022 season:
But, getting back to our title, how might you best “spend” your lump sum. Maybe a better question we can ask is how might you best “invest” your cash windfall?
Not everyone will receive a refund or a large check from the IRS. But ideas I’ll put forth can be used when receiving any gift, bonus, or unexpected cash windfall.
Before we dive in, I want to quickly add: If your children, a relative or close friend has talked about their refund, feel free to forward these suggestions to them.
7 smart ways to invest your tax refund
1. Do you have a rainy-day fund? Is if fully funded? You understand the importance of reserves. Whether it’s a home repair, auto repair, a layoff or unexpected bill, having cash set aside will ease the financial burden.
I recommend three to six months of readily accessible savings in the event of an emergency. If you don’t have a rainy-day fund, don’t procrastinate; get started today.
2. Get out of debt. Years ago, I saw a quote that went something like this. “The road to poverty is paved by high interest rates.” I don’t know who coined the phrase, but too many people run up high-rate debts and struggle to pay them off.
Pay down or pay off high-rate credit cards or unsecured loans. You might start off with the card with the lowest balance first. Wiping the slate clean on a card or cards is a big psychological win and will encourage you to stay in the battle until you are out of debt.
3. Tackle your student loans. Can the president simply wave his hand and forgive your student loans? If he could (and maybe he can; the jury’s still out on this one), would you receive a 1099 for debt that’s forgiven (the devil is always in the details)? Or, for that matter, should you wait for the bureaucracy to solve your problem?
If you have an emergency fund and credit card debts are low, consider tackling your student loans. Sure, they helped you get through college, but they are a burden hanging over your financial future.
4. We reap what we sow. If you don’t sow into a retirement plan, there will be no harvest come retirement. For example, if you take the hypothetical $3,263 tax refund and stash it in a Roth IRA, you’ll have $32,834 in 30 years, assuming an 8% annual return. Plus, you’ll pay no federal income tax when you take a qualified withdrawal from a Roth IRA.
At 10%, you’ll have $56,937, and at 6%, you’ll have $18,741. Of course, returns aren’t guaranteed and may vary, but trading one’s natural inclination for instant gratification for a future payoff can pay you a handsome reward.
5. Invest in the future of your child, grandchild or yourself. There are various options, and we can point you in the right direction to help get your started.
You might consider an education savings account of a 529 plan for your kids. While you won’t get a tax deduction for contributions into the accounts, these vehicles allow you to grow the nest egg tax-free, and they can be withdrawn for qualified expenses without a tax liability.
Have you decided that you would like to invest in yourself? Do you want to ascend to the next level? Certifications and college classes can help sharpen your skills. Even if you are not career-oriented, investing in your hobbies can bring added enjoyment.
6. Gifting your refund. You may decide that you don’t need the money. I know folks who gave away their stimulus checks to their kids or charity. What puts a smile on your face? That may be the appropriate strategy for your refund.
7. Have some fun. As we said, the average refund check so far has been $3,263. You may take one of my ideas to heart and earmark the lion’s share toward that goal. But don’t be afraid to save some for yourself.
Whether it’s a nearby weekend trip, a day trip to the spa, or that expensive restaurant you have always wanted to try, it’s OK to take care of yourself.
These suggestions are just food for thought. But be strategic. Think long-term. And take some time to consider what you might do with your refund or any windfall you may receive. A lack of planning and impulsive decisions can be costly. And remember, I’m always here to assist you.
So many families and friends live apart these days that most of us are forced to ship at least some of our holiday presents. And while the FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service are very reliable, they do offer shipping insurance, just in case of a mishap. So, should you buy it?