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Your 2016 H-O-L-I-D-A-Y Season Action Plan

By Jeffrey Levine, Director of Retirement Education 
Follow Me on Twitter: @IRAGuru4EdSlott

 

H – Have your financial institutions send you a copy of the beneficiary information they have on file for you. On more than a few occasions, we’ve seen financial institutions lose copies of beneficiary forms (or in some really egregious cases, destroy them). Asking for this information annually helps ensure that there are no surprises when you’re no longer here. The beneficiary form is the most important document when it comes to your retirement account. Therefore, even though it may seem monotonous to check these forms year after year – especially if you haven’t made any changes – it’s worth the effort.

O – Offset gains with losses, or losses with gains, where it makes sense to do so. Sold an investment in a taxable (non-retirement) this year with a gain? Then you might want to check your taxable investments and see if you have any with a loss that you can sell to offset the gain. Or maybe you sold a “loser” investment earlier this year in your taxable account. In that case, you may want to look through your portfolio and see if there’s something with a gain you want to liquidate for rebalancing or other purposes, which you can now sell without adding to your tax bill. Keep in mind that losses resulting from the sale of losing investments – capital losses – can only be used to offset up to $3,000 of your ordinary income, such as wages or interest. And don’t forget, sometimes it pays to intentionally sell investments to pay a capital gain, especially if that gain will be taxed at a 0% rate!

L – Look to see if a Roth conversion makes sense before year end. If you want to make a Roth IRA contribution for 2016, you can do so – assuming you’re eligible – up through April 18, 2017. If, however, you want to make a 2016 Roth IRA conversion, your funds must leave the distributing account by December 31, 2016. Making a Roth IRA conversion in 2016 could make sense if your income is particularly low this year, or if your deductions are abnormally high. And in truth, if there’s any question as to whether or not a 2016 Roth IRA conversion makes sense for you, you should make one (or more). Remember, you can always recharacterize (undo) that conversion up through October 16, 2017.

I – Increase your retirement plan contributions for the following year. One of the easiest ways to have more in retirement is to save more while you’re working. Many times, a new year will bring with it a new, higher salary. That makes this the perfect time to try and increase your salary deferrals to your 401(k) or similar plan. Increasing your contributions by just one percent of your salary can pay huge dividends in retirement, thanks to compounding. And if you make that salary deferral at the same time your get a raise – even a small one – you’ll barely feel it now! At the very least, try to make sure you contribute enough to your 401(k) or similar plan to take advantage of any matching contributions your employer offers.

D – Determine if you’ve paid enough money “in” through withholding and/or estimated tax payments to avoid an estimated tax penalty. If you haven’t, see if there’s a way you can fix the problem before the end of the year. One way to do so would be to ask your employer to withhold all or a larger-than-normal portion of any paychecks or bonuses you’ll receive before the end of the year. When you withhold amounts – from a paycheck or otherwise – those amounts are treated as though they were paid in evenly, throughout the year, even if all of the withholding actually takes place on December 31st! If you don’t have a paycheck from which you can withhold funds but you have an IRA, you still might be able to avoid an estimated penalty by having the withholding done from an IRA distribution.

A – Accelerate certain deductions, where it makes sense to do so. For instance, if you think you’re going to owe state income tax when you file your 2016 tax return next year, you may want to make a state tax payment before the end of the year so that you can deduct that amount on your federal income tax return. Similarly, you may wish to accelerate the payment of certain medical expenses before the end of the year, especially if you or your spouse will be 65 or older before the end of this year. In such cases, your 2016 medical expenses only have to exceed 7.5% of your AGI to be deductible, whereas next year, in 2017, they will have to exceed 10% of your AGI to be deductible. For those in the highest income brackets, accelerating deductions into 2016 may make even more sense since. Given the results of the 2016 election, it’s very likely that the top income tax rate will be reduced next year, making income tax deductions worth slightly less.

Y – You’re done, so celebrate! If you get through H-O-L-I-D-A then kick back and relax, the “Y” is on me!

Here’s to a great holiday season and a happy New Year!

 

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