With the end of
2019 drawing near, it’s time to figure out how to be financially wise to our
best advantage.

Max Out and Catch Up on Contributions If You Are Still Working

For those of you
over 50, it’s time to put money into your own or a spousal IRA. The limit is $7,000,
and though you do have until April 15th of next year – it’s best to do
it now.

Do you have an
employer sponsored plan – such as 401K, 403B, or 457 – with a maxed out self-contribution of $19,000? You have room
to put in another $6,000 as “catch up” if you are over 50.

In a SIMPLE plan,
you can contribute up to $13,000 or 25% of your income. If you are over 50, you
can contribute an additional $3,000.

Fund your H.S.A.
where individuals can get $3,500 in and families up to $7,000. If you are over
55 – you can add an additional $1,000 to both the individual and family

Did You Take Your Required Minimum Distribution?

If you are age 70 ½
or older, and don’t take your IRA distribution, you get penalized 50% of what
you should have withdrawn, and then taxed on that amount. Your RMD is based on
the IRA account value as of December 31st the previous year.

It is considered
ordinary income on your tax return. If you want to keep it off your tax return,
give it away to a qualified charitable organization. This lowers your tax and
impacts what you will pay for Medicare premiums.

Chunk Your Charitable Donations

For those who
aren’t familiar, the standard deductions went up in 2018. That’s $12,000 per
individual with an extra $1,300 if you are over age 65. So, for a married
couple over the ages of 65 your standard deduction is $26,600. You may want to
get creative and lump your donations into 2019.

Here’s an example:

If a couple over
the age of 65 has $8,000 in state, local, and property taxes, $2,000 in
deductible medical expenses, $6,000 in mortgage interest expense, and have
given $8,000 in charitable contributions so far, their itemized expenses add up
to $24,000.

If this were year-end,
they would be better off taking the standard deduction. If, however, they
wanted to use a donor advised fund, or “lump” donations into 2019, they could
give cash or appreciated assets away this year. This would increase the amount
they could claim on an itemization schedule and lower their taxes.

Using the Donor
Advised fund gives you the benefit of the tax deduction in the year the
contribution is made, but you have to choose the organizations that you want to
receive funding into next year or beyond. You would then take the standard
deduction in 2020.

Revisit Your Mortgage

Interest rates
ticked down a bit lower this fall. If you have put off the idea of refinancing,
now is probably a good time to look at it again.

There are many
things to consider. How long do you anticipate being in your home? What type of
mortgage do you have now? What would the closing costs be? What are your cash
flow or income needs?

Harvest Investment Gains and Losses

Look at any
investments that are exposed to taxation (outside of your retirement accounts).
You can strategically rebalance your portfolio in a way to minimize taxation.

If you have paper
losses on stocks or mutual funds, you should be able to deduct up to $3,000 in
losses from your ordinary income and carry forward any unused amounts to future
years. If you have gains in the same type of investments, look at selling them
before the end of the year.

If your taxable
income (which would include the gains from a sale) keeps you in the 10 or 12%
tax bracket, you would not be taxed on long-term capital gains.

Taking income off of
these accounts? Now may be an opportune time to harvest gains and build up
cash, even if you do have to pay 15% on the gains. If you are still in your
working years and have gains in your brokerage account, consider harvesting and
repositioning into your tax sheltered accounts.

Gifting Investment Gains

If you have
children or grandchildren in lower tax brackets, it may make sense to gift them
stock holdings instead of giving them cash for the holiday season. This could
be a learning opportunity or a way to help fund advanced education.

The cost basis gets
gifted to them as well, but if they are in a lower tax bracket and sell the
holdings, they would not be taxed on the gain. If you are in a higher tax
bracket, you avoid paying taxes on harvesting the gain.

Reduce the Financial Clutter

On another note, it
might be time to close down the memberships, subscription services, or apps
that you didn’t use this year. Additionally, look at consolidating accounts.

Do you have old,
employer sponsored plans that could be rolled into your own personal IRA? What
other financial tools do you have that are either no longer serving you, or
need to be recalibrated to fit into your current life season?

Prioritize Planning and Build on Your Wins

Consider getting a
guide and advisor to help you discern the details of everything mentioned above.
Don’t do anything in a vacuum, but in the context of your entire financial
life. Look at what 2020 has in store: what opportunities you are looking
forward to, what challenges may lie in wait.

Be pro-active in a
world that vacillates towards reactive. Look at what you accomplished this
year, or what you are proud of.

Everything has
financial implications. It may have been a positive conversation with a family
member about finances. It may have been a purchase, or a decision not to make a
purchase. What do you want to replicate in 2020 and what do you want to leave

When you sit
down and look at your finances, what makes the most sense to do to minimize
taxes? Do you have a trustworthy financial advisor to help you out? What
financial tools have you used in previous years? Which of them worked for you –
which didn’t? Please share with our community!

Let\’s Have a Conversation!


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