From changing tax laws to the Equifax hack, 2017 has been a year of financial anxiety for so many of us. You can take control of your financial situation and set the stage for a fruitful 2018 by taking these 8 steps before December 31.
- Stash as much money as you can in your retirement accounts. There’s still time to max out your contributions and build up your retirement nest egg. For 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 in your 401(k) account, or up to $24,000 if you’re at least 50.If you don’t have access to a retirement plan through your job, you can contribute up to $5,500 into a Roth or traditional IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). Even if you can’t save the maximum, put away as much as you can – your future self will thank you.
- Spend your FSA (flexible spending account) down to zero – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. In most cases, any money left in your FSA at year-end gets forfeited (your employer keeps it). To make sure 100% of your money stays with you, use that money on IRS-approved expenses.If you can’t come up with a way to spend all the money, check with your employer. Some allow you to take advantage of a “grace period” that lets you use FSA funds after the new year or carry up to $500 of leftover FSA funds to next year.
- Revisit your tax withholding. If you got a big refund last year, or are expecting one next year, lower your withholding taxes right away. While it seems like a good idea to get that pile of cash, it’s actually bad for your finances. Having that extra money every month helps you pay down or avoid adding debt. And if your budget is already in great shape, you can set up automatic investment contributions so that extra money goes straight toward building your personal wealth.
- Sell off losing investments to offset any taxable gains. If your portfolio has some investments that lost money this year, think about selling them before December 31. Doing that will help reduce the tax bill for any gains you’ve enjoyed throughout the year. But don’t let the tax situation alone guide your decision. If an investment still makes sense for your portfolio even though it’s lost some ground, hold on to it.
- Donate to your favorite charities before the tax laws change. Whether you contribute cash or property (things like books, clothes, or household goods), donations are a feel-good way to reduce your income taxes (if you itemize deductions). Make sure you get a receipt for any cash or property contributions over $250 (cancelled checks count). If your total property donations exceed $500, you’ll need to fill out an extra form with your tax return.
- Take a fresh look at your investment portfolio – including retirement accounts. Changes to your life circumstances, time horizons, and risk tolerance may call for some asset reallocation. And even if none of that has changed, your actual asset allocation may be out of sync with your allocation plan due to market activity. Use this time to make sure your investments support your financial goals.
- Make your January mortgage payment in December to take full advantage of the mortgage deduction this year. With the big tax changes coming, you may not be itemizing deductions going forward. So cram an extra mortgage payment into 2017 to lower your tax bill as far as it can go.
- Check your credit report. With data breaches, identity theft, and credit card scams on the rise, it’s critical to review your credit report regularly. Look for any mistakes or fraudulent charges, and if any appear, take immediate steps to have your credit report corrected. You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports from all three major reporting agencies every year. You can get all three at once by visiting annualcreditreport.com