As we head into the new year, now is a great time to make sure your financial plan
is still on track. It is wise to use a checklist to see where you are and what you should do.
Here are eight of the most common and important items to review with your financial advisor:
1 . YOUR GOALS
When you first met with your financial advisor, you outlined long-term goals and worked with your advisor to build a financial
plan to reach them. You have been working toward those goals ever since.
But have your goals changed? Or have other things changed that might make reaching those goals more challenging or easier?
If you’re really honest, the likelihood that something has changed is pretty high. Maybe you’ve had some health worries this
year, want to retire a little sooner or perhaps you discovered a new passion. The point is your advisor needs to know and your
financial plan needs to reflect these changes.
2 . YOUR PERFORMANCE
This is one that gets a lot of attention, so it’s
unlikely you have to even ask. But it’s important
that you understand how you performed relative
to your goals as opposed to relative to indices
that might not be appropriate.
Sure, it helps to measure your results relative
to major market indices, but there is not one
single index by which your performance should
be measured. But if you are not measuring your
performance against your goals and a group
of indices, how do you know whether you’re on
track or not?
3 . CHARITABLE GIFTS
Many nonprofits and charities ramp up their efforts at the end of the
year to ask for contributions. And many of us forget to contribute
until the end of the year, too. In fact, nearly one-third of all giving
happens in the month of December, and 12% of all giving happens in
the last three days of the year.1 Why wait?
4 . 529 PLAN CONTRIBUTIONS
If you are funding a 529 college savings plan, be sure that you contribute the
maximum amount that you need for this year by December 31st. Most state
plans require your contributions to be postmarked by the deadline,
but you should check with your specific 529 plan for their contribution rules.
You can set up automatic contributions into these plans on a regular basis
to avoid a year-end scramble. Now is a good time to set up automatic
savings from your checking or savings account for next year.
5 . RETIREMENT PLAN CONTRIBUTIONS
Yes, you have until next April 15th to contribute to IRAs for the current tax year, but most other retirement plan contribution
deadlines are December 31st. This applies to establishing new plans such as simplified employee pension plans and SIMPLE
(Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRAs.
If you receive a bonus, make sure you tell your employer to put a portion of your bonus into your 401(k) or other retirement
savings plan at work
6. TAX LOSSES AND GAINS
You must take all realized tax losses (or gains) in your portfolio by
December 31st. You should also review your year-to-date gains or
losses and any tax-loss carry-forwards from previous years with your
7 . UPDATE Y O U R BENEFICIARIES
As you reflect back over the year, think about
anything that may impact who you want
designated as your beneficiaries. It is not
uncommon for people to overlook the importance
of keeping the beneficiary form updated. This
one-page document, not your will, decides who
gets your retirement account.
If you got married, had kids, or got divorced
recently, chances are the form is out of date.
Should something happen to you, your family
members may be shocked to find out who is
or isn’t going to be the recipient of your 401(k)
money. Most plans give you online access to the
form, so make sure you capture any changes.
8 . Y E A R E N D I S STRESSFUL ENOUGH
Just be sure to meet with your advisor to take care of all these
financial planning items as soon as possible to avoid missing
deadlines. And remember that the bank, brokerage or
advisory firm that handles your accounts is processing tens
of thousands of year-end transactions, so you want to give
them ample time to handle your needs.