14 Smart Things to Consider for Your 2015 Year-End Financial Checklist

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Be Ready for a Great 2016!

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[By Patrick Bourbon CFA]

1. IRA – 401(k) / 403(b) retirement accounts – Are you on track for a comfortable retirement?   You could increase the funding of your IRA and company retirement plan like a 401(k) or 403(b) accounts.   401(k) and 403(b) accounts allow individuals younger than 50 to contribute $18,000 each year, and individuals 50 and older to contribute $24,000. Some plans allow workers to make additional contributions of after-tax money.

For those under 50, the maximum is $53,000 for 2015. Doing so does not reduce your taxable income, but taxes are deferred on any earnings that the after-tax money makes. Later, some people roll these contributions into a Roth IRA, tax-free so the money would then grow tax-free.   Traditional and Roth IRAs allow individuals younger than 50 to contribute $5,500 each year and individuals 50 and older to contribute $6,500. Even if you earn too much to contribute to a Roth IRA directly, you can open a traditional nondeductible IRA and convert it to a Roth; there is no income limit on traditional nondeductible IRAs or conversions.    Returns generated in IRA and 401(k) / 403(b) accounts compound tax-free over their entire life.

2. Start tax planning! It’s not too early to think about taxes. Asset location & Tax efficiency   Review your taxable and non-taxable accounts to ensure they are optimized for tax efficiency. If you have foreign bank accounts, make sure you comply with FATCA and FBAR (forms FinCEN 114, 8938, 8621…). If you have forgotten, you may look into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) or Streamlined procedures.

3. Portfolio rebalancing   Make sure you have rebalanced your portfolios to keep them in line with your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. The market movements this summer may have thrown off your portfolio balance between stocks and bonds.   David Swensen, the Chief Investment Officer at the Yale Endowment, performed an analysis that showed optimal rebalancing could add 0.4% to your annual return.

4. Harvest your capital losses   Maybe it is time to sell some funds, ETF, stocks to generate some capital losses?   Tax-loss harvesting is a method of reducing your taxes by selling an investment that is trading at a significant loss.  Find out if you have any loss carryovers from prior years to be applied against capital gains (from sale of funds, ETF, stocks… in your taxable/brokerage accounts). If your current year’s capital losses exceed your capital gains, you have a net capital loss. You can use up to $3,000 of that loss ($1,500 if you are married filing separately) to offset other taxable income such as your salaries, wages, interest and dividends. If the capital loss is more than $3,000, you can carry over the excess and apply it against capital gains next year.

5. Emergency fund   Don’t forget to establish or tune up your emergency fund. This is a good time to set aside money for next year’s cash needs. It is an account that is used to set aside funds to be used in an emergency, such as the loss of a job, an illness or a major expense.

6. Review your insurance policies   Do you have a life, disability and long term care insurance? Make sure you and your loved ones are well protected if something happens to you. Your life may have changed (birth, marriage …). If you do have enough coverage it is also a good time simply to review the different types of coverage you have. Whole life or Variable Universal Life may help you reduce your taxes.

7. Health Spending Account   Did you maximize your contribution to your healthcare HSA? The interest and earnings in this account are tax free! The maximum contribution for 2015 is $3,350 for an individual and $6,650 for a family ($1,000 catch-up over 55). The contributions are tax deductible and withdraws are non-taxable if they are used for medical expenses. Over the age of 65 you can withdraw funds at your ordinary tax rate (if the distribution is not used for unreimbursed medical expenses). Fidelity estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2014 will need $220,000 for health care costs in retirement, in addition to expenses covered by Medicare. The HSA can be a great source of tax-free money to pay those bills.

8. Required Minimum Distribution   If you are age 70.5 or older, remember to take your required minimum distribution to avoid a potential 50% penalty.

9. 529 Plan   Did you contribute to your 529 educational plan for your child/children?   You can contribute $14,000 per year (annual limit) for each parent or you can pre-fund in a single instance up to five years’ worth of contributions, up to $70,000 (5 x $14,000). Together, that means a married couple can open a 529 plan with $140,000.   Money saved in a 529 plan grows tax-free when used for eligible educational expenses, and some states have additional tax benefits for residents who contribute to a plan in that state.

10. Determine your net worth   Add up what you own (home, car, savings, investments…) and subtract what you owe (mortgage, loans, credit cards, …).   This will allow you to track your progress year to year. It may also give you some incentive to save more and create a better budget for next year.

11. Check your credit score Go to annualcreditreport.com and request a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every 12 months.

12. Check your beneficiaries   You can check the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts or insurance policies at any time, but it’s a good idea to do this at least annually.

13. Update your estate plan   New baby? Newly married or divorced? Make sure your beneficiary designations reflect any changes. Don’t yet have an estate plan? Make that a new year’s resolution!  Estate planning may include updating or establishing a “will” or trust that can help avoid public disclosure of assets in probate.

14. Spending and automated savings – You want to look ahead   Did you review your budget and set up automated savings?   You may have started the year with a clear budget, but did you to stick to it?    Fall can be a good time of the year for your financial checkup and to reflect on your spending and develop a budget for next year.  It is also a very good time to put whatever you can on automatic. Bills, recurring payments, even savings—the more you can put on auto pay now, the easier your financial life will be next year.   With this year’s facts and figures in front of you, it will be easier to plan and prioritize your expenditures for next year.

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OUR OTHER PRINT BOOKS AND RELATED INFORMATION SOURCES:

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Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners(TM)

Front Matter with Foreword by Jason Dyken MD MBA

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“BY DOCTORS – FOR DOCTORS – PEER REVIEWED – FIDUCIARY FOCUSED

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