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Year-end financial checklist: 9 personal finance tips for 2020

As this year comes to a close, you and your family reflect on where you’ve been and where you’d like to go.

And your financial health is a big part of the picture. As the calendar flips to the new year, here are some things to check off your financial wellness list before year-end.

Review or update your beneficiary designations

Make any needed updates to the beneficiary portion of your bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and annuities. 

Have you gotten married or had a child within the last 12 months? Or perhaps a loved one has exited your life through a divorce or a death. Choosing a beneficiary for your life insurance policy is a decision you should consider carefully. This is important because beneficiaries trump who’s named in a will.1

To help you keep track of your beneficiaries, write down their names along with the date when any updates were made. Also, be sure to name a contingent beneficiary in case your primary beneficiary passes away. Store this document in a binder and review it annually.1

Don’t forget to name a beneficiary on your IRA so that it doesn’t have to pass through your estate. This could result in an unintended beneficiary getting paid or your heirs could miss out on important tax advantages.2

Review tax withholdings

Review your W-4. 2019 was the first year filers completed tax returns under the new legislation. Some people ended up with smaller refunds than they were used to, while others owed money.

As of June 2019, the average refund was down 1.7% from the previous year — $2,729 in 2019 versus $2,778 in 2018.

Visit the IRS website to find out how much you should withhold from each paycheck.3

Review your insurance needs

Health insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance and auto insurance — oh my!

The types of insurance you can have seem endless. It’s important to reevaluate your insurance policies regularly — to make sure you’re properly insured and are not paying too much for them.

Reviewing homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance rates can fluctuate due to crime and bad weather near your home, which can have a negative impact on rates.

Also, have you accumulated many more possessions since the time you purchased your policy? If so, you might want to reevaluate your homeowners policy to be sure it covers everything of value.4

Reviewing auto insurance

Every state has minimum car insurance requirements — and you might need just the minimum coverage. However, make sure your coverage equals your total assets (your house, car, savings and investments) in case the costs related to the accident exceed your coverage limits — and your assets are seized to pay for them.

Your auto insurance might include liability coverage, bodily injury liability (BIL), property damage liability, personal injury protection, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, collision, and comprehensive.

Review the types of coverage your state requires and read up on potential rates and discounts or work with a professional to get an affordable rate.5

Review your portfolio — diversify if need be

Take a close look at your investments.

Your plan should fit your current life situation, which can change in just a year. Did you just inherit some money? Or perhaps your job is less secure than it was last year. As your life changes, your investments and financial portfolio might need another review.6

For instance, stocks and bonds in your investment portfolio should be appropriate for your age and how well you tolerate risk.

Your portfolio should reflect investment objectives that are appropriate for your current life stage. Your age, risk tolerance, tax status and time horizon, among other factors, are all important. Speak with a financial professional regarding your personal situation.

Meet with your financial professional to see how changes in your life may have impacted your overall financial portfolio.

Spend eligible flex dollars

A healthcare flexible spending account (FSA) can save you money — as long as you spend the pre-tax dollars before the end of the year. Otherwise you run the risk of losing it (unless your employer offers a grace period).

In 2019, employees could squirrel away as much as $2,700. So, make that last-minute dental or chiropractic appointment while there’s still time. Or stock up on qualified medical supplies such as contact lens solution and high-SPF sunscreen.

A tip for next year’s open enrollment period: If you, your spouse or your child is going to need medical services, you should consider contributing to your FSA at least the amount of your health insurance deductible.7

Check in on your emergency savings account

In an ideal world, you’d have three to six months’ worth of emergency savings set aside.

The reality is that can be difficult when you’re caring for your family’s everyday needs. However, it’s important that you don’t fall into the camp of 55 million Americans (roughly 25 percent) who say they don’t have any emergency savings.8

Remember that an unexpected emergency, such as a car repair or a medical expense, could set you back financially. To help ensure that doesn’t happen, build up your savings by automatically depositing some money from your paycheck to a dedicated savings account.8

If you have kids, contribute to their college fund

College tuition isn’t for the faint of heart. But having a tax-advantaged strategy in place can help you prepare for the rising costs. If you already have one, try to contribute as much as you can.

As you’re preparing your child (or children) for his or her upcoming education, whether it's elementary, high school or college, there are many different types of vehicles that could help you reach your goals. Speak to a financial professional to explore the possibilities and to see what would be a good fit for your specific situation. 

Make charitable donations

Donate to an organization that’s close to your heart. The benefits are two-fold: You will reduce your taxable income and feel good about giving some of your hard-earned dollars to a good cause. It’s a win-win.

Start planning for next year’s memories

Your financial checklist should include a savings plan for a family vacation or another memorable event.

You can open a dedicated savings account and set up an automatic transfer of funds to get you closer to your destination. And don’t minimize how effective dropping your loose change into a change jar can be.

You're now on your way to making every moment — and penny — count. 

 

This information is a general discussion of the relevant federal tax laws provided to promote ideas that may benefit a taxpayer. It is not intended for, nor can it be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties. Taxpayers should seek the advice of their own advisors regarding any tax and legal issues specific to their situation.

Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested.

Want to learn more?

Read more personal finance tips so you can do what you love and worry less about your money. 

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1. Anspach, Dana. “Why Beneficiary Designations Override Your Will,” thebalance.com, October 18, 2018.

2. “Time to Review Beneficiary Designations,” fedweek.com, January 4, 2018.

3. ”Filing Season Statistics for Week Ending May 10, 2019,” irs.gov, June 28, 2019.

4. Homeowners Insurance Buying Guide, consumerreports.org, June, 2018.

5. Sachon, Logan and Swartz, Anna. “How Much Car Insurance Do You Need?” policygenius.com, October 24, 2019.

6. Miler, Stephen. “2019 FSA Contribution Cap Rises to $2,700, IRS Belatedly Announces,” shrm.org, November 16, 2018.

7. O’Brien, Sarah. “It’s Use It or Lose It Time for Many with Flexible Spending Accounts,” cnbc.com, December 29, 2017.

8. Dickler, Jessica. “The First Thing You Should Know About Saving Money,” cnbc.com, July 6, 2018.

 

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