Five Quick Financial Tips for Q4 2017
Believe it or not, we are quickly approaching the end of 2017. Below are a few questions and helpful tips to keep in mind with regards to your year-end financial planning:
1) Were you affected by the Equifax hack?
In light of the recent Equifax hack, it’s worthwhile to check your credit reports to confirm that your credit has not been compromised. You can obtain your credit reports for free from all three credit bureaus (once a year from each bureau) by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. While downloading your credit reports is free, there are fees for obtaining your credit score. Unless you need your credit score, feel free to simply download your credit reports and confirm that there are no issues. It is good practice to do this once a year, but more so given recent events.
If you do not need access to your credit score anytime soon (e.g., home purchase/refinance, new car financing, credit card applications), you may want to consider the added protection of placing a security freeze on your credit with the credit bureaus. The hassle of freezing/unfreezing your credit and getting charged a nominal fee for this service should be weighed against the extra protection you receive against identify theft.
2) Have you maximized your 401(k)/403(b)/457 for 2017?
If it works with your cash flow situation, consider adjusting your 401(k)/403(b)/457 withholdings so that you can maximize your account by the end of the year. For most plans, the maximum contribution for the year is $18,000 (plus $6,000 if you are eligible for catch-up contributions).
If you wait until the end of the year to contribute a significant portion of your paycheck to your 401(k)/403(b)/457, you may run into contribution limitations due to your employer’s payroll system. Additionally, contributing heavily into your retirement account towards the end of the year may not leave you with sufficient cash-on-hand. Spreading your contributions over a longer period of time will minimize disruptions to your cash flow during the typically higher spending holiday months.
3) Will you be making charitable contributions during the holidays?
The holiday season is around the corner and many of you are charitably inclined. Instead of gifting cash to your favorite 501(c)(3), consider gifting appreciated long-term securities instead. By donating long-term stocks/ETFs/mutual funds directly from your taxable brokerage account to your preferred charity, you will not have to recognize capital gains associated with those securities from a capital gains tax perspective. Additionally, you may be able to deduct the full value of the donated securities as itemized deductions on your tax returns.
4) Do you have any tax loss harvesting opportunities?
Tax loss harvesting is the practice of selling a security at a loss in order to offset income tax on other capital gains, ordinary income, and sometimes both, depending on your tax circumstances.
Equity and bond markets have generally done very well over the past few years, limiting opportunities to tax loss harvest if you own index funds. However, there may still be opportunities to tax loss harvest if certain individual stocks you have purchased have gone down in value since the date you purchased those stocks. Reviewing your unrealized gain/loss situation and harvesting losses within your taxable accounts may benefit you from a tax perspective when you file your 2017 tax returns.
5) Will pre-paying state income and/or property taxes before the end of the year decrease your tax liability for 2017?
Reach out to your tax professional and ask if it makes sense for you to pre-pay your 2017 state income tax liability and/or the second-half of your property taxes (if you live in California) before the end of the calendar year. Doing so may result in a current year tax deduction, provided that you are not subject to the alternative minimum tax.
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