Magazine

How to Make a Year-End Planning Checklist

By Cameron Rogers

There’s something about checklists that make them hard not to love. They’re easy to follow. They help us prioritize our time. And then there’s that excellent sense of accomplishment you get when you check something off the list.

And for 2020 — a year so full of change, so full of chaos — a solid year-end checklist might even be a necessity. Here’s a checklist of 18 things you might want to discuss with your financial advisor team at Ellevest, your tax pro, and your legal pros to help you close out the year and tee up a productive 2021.

Your investment portfolio

1. Rebalance your portfolios.

When the stock and bond markets go up or down, your target portfolio mix can drift off course if some of your investments become more or less valuable. Rebalancing is buying and selling across your portfolio to bring your investments back in line with your target.

2. Look at offsetting capital gains with losses.

If you had portfolio capital gains and losses in 2020, you may be able to offset some or all of the gains with the losses, with the goal of reducing the amount you’ll owe in taxes in 2020. This tactic is also known as tax loss harvesting.

3. Diversify any concentrated positions.

We’d say you have a concentrated stock position if you have more than 10% of your total investment portfolio in a single stock or company. That can be risky when the market is volatile, so if this is the case for you, it’s important to work with your advisor to set up a long-term, tax-efficient sale plan.

If you are charitable, you can also use some of your stock position to create a donor-advised fund. That would let you diversify your position by donating the stock, allowing for a same-year tax benefit. Then, you could make grants to charitable organizations from the fund over time.

4. Revisit your current income needs.

If you rely on your investment portfolio to partially or fully support your lifestyle, you’ll want to work with your advisor team to come up with an estimate of the cash flow your portfolio is expected to generate next year. If any other sources of income were disrupted in 2020, you might also want to talk with your financial planner about modifying your overall financial plan.

5. Know what your money is doing.

Every dollar you invest makes an impact. If you don’t know the impact your money is making right now, ask your advisor to run a diagnostic of your portfolio to better understand how your investments are aligning with your values.

Retirement planning

6. Maximize your 401(k) contributions.

The max contribution into your 401(k) for 2020 is $19,500 (or $26,000, if you’re 50 or older). Even if you don’t hit the max, your contributions are still important because they lower your taxable income for 2020. You have until December 31 to make 401(k) contributions.

7. Think about maximizing your IRA contributions.

You should think about an individual retirement account (aka IRA) contribution. The contribution limit for most IRAs in 2020 is $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older). With IRAs, you have until Tax Day (April 15, 2021) to make the contribution, so you can assess your year-end financial situation before contributing if you like.

8. Review your beneficiary designations.

Beneficiary forms have often superseded wills and trust directives in court, and not updating them is a common (and potentially expensive) mistake. Review and update them each year!

9. Think about a Roth conversion.

With a Roth IRA conversion, you’ll transfer retirement funds from a traditional IRA or 401(k) account into a Roth account. Since a traditional account is tax-deferred while a Roth is tax-exempt, you’ll need to pay those deferred income taxes on the funds you convert. This strategy isn’t relevant every year. It tends to be most relevant in a year when you think your tax bracket will be lower — which means it might be better to pay taxes now than in retirement. The upside? When you withdraw your money in retirement, it’ll be tax free.

10. Consider a “child Roth IRA.”

Opening an IRA for a child can give your kids (or grandkids, or kids you care about) a head start for retirement. You’ll set up a regular Roth IRA as a custodial account. Kids can contribute to it if they earned income from a job or business of their own.

Charitable contributions and gifts

11. Revisit your strategic giving plan.

If you’re giving intentionally, rather than reactively, you can have a bigger impact on the things you care about most. We like the 80/20 rule, where you give 80% of your giving budget to those causes and organizations you’re deeply connected to, and reserve 20% of it for giving in reaction to requests and opportunities that come up.

12. Gift your gains.

If you’re donating an appreciated asset, like stock that has increased in value since you got it, donating it in kind may allow you to avoid the capital gains tax that you’d have had to pay if you sold it. That means you can donate the full value of the asset instead of a reduced, after-tax amount. Talk to your legal and tax pros to see if this applies to you.

13. Consider family gifting before year-end.

You won’t receive any sort of deduction for gifting to a family member, friend, or neighbor in need. That said, if the gift is under $15,000 ($30,000 for married couples), it won’t be subject to gift tax and doesn’t count toward your lifetime gift and estate tax limit. And that’s a per-recipient cap!

14. Think about upping your giving for 2020

Usually, the deduction limit for charitable cash donation is 60% of your adjusted gross income. This year only, the CARES Act temporarily suspended that limit in response to the pandemic. For cash contributions to qualifying organizations made in 2020, the deduction limit is 100% — so you may want to talk to your financial advisor and your legal and tax professionals about whether giving more is right for you.

Other things to check off the list

15. Tell your team about any major life events.

Weddings or divorces, births and deaths, career changes, relocations … all of these could impact your spending and budgets — or the investment advice and recommendations that are made for you — so make sure you let your team know.

16. Review your planning documents.

Take a look at your will, healthcare power of attorney, advanced medical directive, and general power of attorney to make sure all names are up to date and they reflect your wishes.

17. Review your income tax withholding.

Talk to your tax professional to see if the amount you’re withholding still makes sense as you head into 2021.

18. Think about paying your January mortgage early.

Talk to your financial planner and tax pro to see if it makes sense to make your January mortgage payment in December so you can deduct the interest on your 2020 tax return.


Sources and Disclosures

© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sources of claims of fact: 401(k) contribution max; IRA contribution max; beneficiary forms supersede wills and trusts in court; child Roth IRAs; Roth IRA conversions; in-kind donation; gift tax; tax withholding; 2020 temporary charitable cash deduction limit; early mortgage payment.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.

Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

Cameron Rogers

Cameron joined Ellevest after 10 years at JP Morgan, where she advised both high net worth families and institutional investors on investing and wealth planning. Today, she’s a financial advisor on Ellevest’s Private Wealth Management team, working with clients to help them develop personalized, long-term investment portfolios that align with their goals and values.