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The year is almost over. Yet you still have time to make some financial moves and set the stage for a fresh start in 2021.
While there are timely tax savings to consider, it’s also a good time to assess your budget and other money matters.
“We, as human beings, tend to want to wrap things up in a nice neat little bow at the end of the year to get a good start in the new year,” said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth, president of New York-based Bone Fide Wealth and member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.
Here are eight strategies that can improve your financial outlook before you say, “Happy New Year.”
1. Prepare for bills to restart
This year was unlike any other.
You may have lost your job or saw your income reduced. You also may have gotten some breaks thanks to the CARES Act, such as the student loan forbearance or a penalty-free withdrawal from your 401(k) or individual retirement account.
However, you’ll have to soon start paying off your student debt again. The relief wasn’t taken up again in the latest stimulus bill and expires on Jan. 31.
“If you have been spending that money that used to go to your student loans, you’re going to have to get a handle on that,” said CFP Lazetta Rainey Braxton, New York-based co-founder and co-CEO of advisory firm 2050 Wealth Partners.
“If you’ve been saving that money, good for you,” she added. “You’ve taken advantage of that relief, and then you will resume back in February.”
Those who took money out of their retirement plan have three years to pay it back without owing taxes on it, if they so choose. They can also take it as a withdrawal, and have three years to pay taxes on it.
If you plan on paying it back, you’ll have to add that into your budget. If not, plan on paying a third of the taxes on it come tax time.
2. Reflect upon your spending
Another important part of your budget is your spending. Look back on where you spent your money this past year — and where you didn’t.
“Because of the pandemic, we have not been able to travel as much and eat out as much,” said Braxton, also a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.
“This is a good time to reflect upon the year to see how, in fact, you were able to save money because you were not able to do these things.”
Think about how you can carry over some of those spending reductions as the economy opens back up.
“This is a good reset button to make sure that you are being disciplined and intentional with the way that you want to live your lifestyle and staying within that framework, as well.”
3. Minimize your taxes
If you are cashing in investments that made you some money this year, you’ll wind up paying taxes on those gains. To minimize the impact, you can also consider selling assets that have lost value.
It’s called tax-loss harvesting. By selling assets at a loss, it will make up for some of the gains you made and should reduce the amount of taxes you will have to pay.
With the stock market’s strong, albeit volatile, year, it may be difficult to find investments to sell at a loss, Boneparth said.
However, you have until Dec. 31 to offset any gains you made by selling investments, as well as up to $3,000 in non-investment income.
4. Donate to charity
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‘Tis the season for charitable giving — and this year, even more so, with so many people struggling.
“In a really tough year of 2020 … there are going to be that many more people who need help,” Boneparth said.
In addition to spreading some good will, you can also get a tax break — even if you don’t itemize your taxes. The CARES Act allows those who take the standard deduction to claim up to $300 in charitable contribution deductions.
5. Polish up your resume
With the unemployment rate still high and the direction of the economy unclear, make sure your resume and online professional profiles at sites like LinkedIn are up to date.
“You have to stay on top of your profession, your craft, so that you can get a wage that is commensurate with your experiences,” Braxton said.
Position yourself as someone who is competent and worthy of being paid your market rate. That’s even more important with the income and wealth gap that has really oppressed marginalized communities, she said.
“For most people, their biggest asset is themselves,” Braxton added. “The income that you can generate based on your talents, it’s going to be so important to maintain your lifestyle and be prepared for the future, as well.”
6. Make an estate plan
Now is a good time to check on who will receive your benefits after your death.
That means looking at all your retirement plans and life insurance to make sure the beneficiaries are updated and correct.
Also, have your estate-planning documents in place. That includes both a medical and financial power of attorney, living will and last will and testament.
“These are tough conversations to have, but they must be had because no one would have imagined a pandemic of this magnitude, the amount of deaths that have happened, as quickly as it has happened,” Braxton said.
“So planning requires that we be responsible with what life may bring us and be prepared accordingly.”
7. Start an emergency fund
If you have any money left over after you pay the bills, start an emergency fund.
Typically, experts suggest to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
“[Plan] now so that you can be prepared and enjoy the life that is ahead of you,” Braxton said.