David J. Blount, CFP®
LPL Financial Advisor
With 2024 right around the corner, have you stopped to evaluate whether your finances are in shape, or is there room for improvement? At Investment & Insurance Planning Services, we understand that strong financial health doesn’t happen by chance; it requires dedication, consistency, and effort. That’s why we created this financial planning guide to help you get ready for the upcoming year. Keep reading to explore the strategies for kick-starting your 2024 financial plan.
Maximize Your Retirement Savings
Before the end of the year, be sure to max out your retirement contributions. Many employers offer retirement plans like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457s, which allow you to contribute up to $22,500 annually for 2023 ($30,000 if over age 50).
These contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck and won’t show up as part of your annual income, so the more you can maximize your contributions during the year, the less taxable income you will have come April 15th. With this strategy, you can defer taxes until your retirement years when you could potentially be in a lower tax bracket.
Contribute to a Traditional IRA
Contributing to a traditional IRA is another strategy to reduce your AGI if your income is within certain limits. By contributing pre-tax funds, you can effectively reduce your current-year tax liability, but you will owe tax on both the contributions and the account growth when you withdraw the funds in retirement. The 2023 contribution limit for traditional IRAs is $6,500 with additional $1,000 catch-up contributions for individuals over the age of 50. Contributions can be made until April 15th, 2024, for the 2023 tax year, but the sooner they are made, the less likely you are to forget.
Don’t Forget About RMDs
If you are age 73 or older, you are required to take minimum distributions from all of your retirement accounts (except Roth IRAs). In the year in which you turn 73, you have until April 1st of the following year to take your RMD. Every year thereafter, however, you must take the distribution no later than December 31st.
If you haven’t yet taken your RMD for 2023, be sure to do so. If you don’t, you will face a 50% penalty on the distribution you should have taken. If you don’t need your RMD money to live on, consider donating the funds to a worthy cause, which could also lessen your tax burden for the year. To calculate your RMD, use one of the IRS worksheets.
Assess Your Emergency Fund
Now is the time to confirm you have enough money set aside in your emergency fund or create a plan to build this up over the next year. An adequate emergency fund should cover 3-6 months of necessary living expenses, including mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, etc.
With all the stock market uncertainty and recession fears, many experts have suggested maintaining a larger emergency fund, closer to 6-12 months of expenses. If you’re single, or your household only has one source of income, consider saving on the higher end of this scale to make sure you’re covered in the event of a job loss or reduction in income.
However much you save, be sure this money is held in a highly liquid account. It needs to be readily available and easily accessible, but it should also be in an account that offers a competitive interest rate so you don’t lose out on potential growth.
Create and Maintain a Budget
The word “budget” seems to have a negative connotation; many people think that if you budget, you’re broke. Budgeting actually gives you permission to spend and is a simple way to keep track of your expenses and be aware of how much you’re actually saving each month. If one of your goals for the new year is to improve your cash flow and make better financial decisions, creating and maintaining a budget is a great place to start.
Review Your Income Needs as a Retiree
As you approach retirement or are already enjoying your golden years, it’s crucial to periodically assess your income needs to make sure you are set up for a comfortable retirement. If you are eligible for Social Security benefits, consider when and how you plan to claim them. Delaying benefits until full retirement age (or even beyond) can result in higher monthly payments. If you have a pension, review the terms and payment structure. Understand when your pension payments will start and whether you have any choices regarding lump-sum payments or survivor benefits. Finally, take a few minutes to assess your investment portfolio to determine how it will generate income during your retirement. You may need to adjust your investment strategy to make sure it supports your retirement goals.
Contribute to a Health Savings Account
If you’re enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, consider contributing to a health savings account (HSA) before the end of the year. HSAs offer triple tax savings. Contributions are tax-deductible, earnings grow tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free if used to pay for medical expenses.
The 2023 IRS contribution limits for HSAs are $3,850 for individuals and $7,750 for families. If you are 55 or older, you may also be able to make catch-up contributions of $1,000 per year. You technically have until April 15th for your contributions to count for the previous year’s tax return, but the sooner, the better to ensure you don’t forget.
Review Your Workplace Benefits
The end of the year is a great time to review your workplace benefits and take advantage of any remaining sick days, vacation time, or deductibles before they reset.
Depending on your company, your sick or vacation time might expire at the end of the year. Check with your HR department to learn about any expiration dates. If your sick or vacation time does expire, be sure to take advantage of a last-minute vacation or a staycation before the end of the year.
Similarly, if you’ve hit your deductible for the year, now would be a good time to incur additional medical expenses before your deductible resets in 2024. Take the time to get that dental work, blood test, or other medical procedure you’ve been putting off. Dental plans in particular often have a maximum coverage amount. If you haven’t used up the full amount and anticipate any treatments, make an appointment before December 31st.
Use Up Your Flexible Spending Account
Unlike HSAs, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) have limits on how much you can carry over from year to year. Because of that, you’ll want to use up as much of your FSA dollars as possible by the end of the year. In 2023, you are only allowed to carry over $610 going into 2024.
That being said, check the restrictions on your account to see what the money can and cannot be used for, and take care of any needs you may have as allowed by your plan.
Revisit Your Plans and Policies
Your insurance needs may also change as the year goes by, so periodically review your coverages and designated beneficiaries to bring them up to date to reflect your current financial situation. For example, if you paid off debt, you may not need as much life insurance coverage since your family’s liabilities have decreased. You might also want to evaluate your need for other types of insurance, such as long-term care or disability insurance.
Donate to Charity
Annual gifts to qualified charitable organizations may be deemed an eligible itemized deduction and can be a great way to give back at the end of the year while also minimizing your tax bill. With the higher standard deduction, you’ll need to make sure your total itemized deductions for the year exceed $13,850 for an individual filer, and $27,700 for married filing jointly. If your deductions fall below this amount, consider bunching your giving or doing several years’ worth of giving in one year.
Donor-advised funds are another option that allow you to contribute a lump sum all at once and then distribute those funds to various charities over several years. With this strategy, you can itemize deductions when you make the initial contribution and then take the standard deduction in the following years, allowing you to make the most out of your donation tax-wise.
Consider a QCD
Qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) are a valuable tool for retirees looking to maximize their retirement savings while supporting charitable causes. A QCD is a tax-efficient way to donate funds directly from your individual retirement account (IRA) to a qualified charitable organization. It allows you to fulfill your charitable goals while reducing your taxable income. As you review your financial plan for 2024, you may want to consider incorporating QCDs as part of your strategy.
Invest in a College Savings Plan
If you have children or grandchildren in your life, contributing to a 529 savings plan is an excellent way to jump-start their college savings and give a thoughtful holiday gift that will last longer than a few months.
This type of educational savings plan was created so that families could receive tax benefits for saving toward qualified higher-education expenses. After-tax money is invested in a 529 plan where it grows tax-free. When the money is later taken out for qualified expenses, there are no federal taxes due.
In 2023, you can give up to $17,000 per 529 account gift-tax-free. There’s also a special election that allows you to give 5 years’ worth of contributions as a lump sum, meaning you could give up to $85,000 entirely gift-tax-free!
Consider a Roth Conversion
Roth IRAs are an attractive savings vehicle for many reasons, including no required minimum distributions (RMDs), tax-free withdrawals after age 59½, and the ability to pass wealth tax-free to your heirs. Unfortunately, Roth IRAs have income restrictions, and you may not be able to open an account outright if you are above certain limits.
To get around this threshold, consider a Roth conversion. Using this strategy, you will pay tax on money contributed to a traditional IRA, thereby converting it into a Roth. If you have earned less income in 2023, or your traditional IRA balance has taken a hit due to recent market volatility, a Roth conversion may be a great opportunity for your specific situation. Converting to a Roth also allows your money to grow tax-free for as long as you’d like.
Consider Tax-Loss Harvesting
Tax-loss harvesting involves selling investments at a loss in order to offset the gains in your portfolio. By realizing a capital loss, you can counterbalance the taxes owed on capital gains. The investments that are sold are usually replaced with similar securities to maintain the desired asset allocation and expected return. Given the continued market volatility throughout 2023, this can be a great way to make the most out of a losing situation by using an investment loss to offset your tax liability. Talk with your advisor about potentially harvesting your losses and if it makes sense for you. Any appropriate actions must be taken by December 31st.
Review Your Asset Allocation & Investment Risk
When it comes to your financial well-being, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your investment strategy and how it aligns with your financial goals. The first step in this process is to evaluate your current asset allocation. This refers to how your investments are divided among different asset classes like stocks, bonds, and cash.
As you review your investments, take time to reassess your risk tolerance. Has your tolerance for risk changed due to changes in your life circumstances or personal preferences? Knowing this helps you make informed decisions about your investment portfolio. Also consider how your assets are diversified. Diversification is a risk management strategy that helps mitigate risk while optimizing returns. Verify that your portfolio is adequately diversified, which can help you weather market fluctuations and reduce the risk of significant losses.
Review Beneficiary Designations
If you had any major life events happen this year, like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or a death in the family, make sure you review your beneficiary designations. There are several assets, including retirement accounts, bank accounts, and life insurance policies, that are distributed based on beneficiary designation and not the terms of the will. If you have an updated will but an outdated beneficiary listed on one of these accounts, there is a chance your assets will not pass according to your wishes.
Review Your Estate Documents
Similarly, it’s important to review your estate planning documents, including your last will and testament, any powers of attorney, living wills, and/or trust documents. The new year is always a good time to take another look at these documents or start drafting them if you don’t already have them in place.
Make the Most of the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion
If you’re in the giving spirit as you head into the new year and you want to reduce your taxable estate, consider making gifts up to the annual exclusion amount. In 2023, individuals can give to each recipient (and to an unlimited number of recipients) up to $17,000 and married couples can give up to $34,000 without triggering gift tax. Not only that, but the beneficiary of your gift will not have to report it as income. This is a great way to spread your wealth amongst family and friends.
We’re Here to Support You
If you find this list overwhelming, remember that we’re here to support you and address all your questions. We’ve put together a simplified checklist to keep you organized and on task as you take the time to evaluate your financial picture before year’s end.
At Investment & Insurance Planning Services, our extensive industry experience equips us with the tools and knowledge to help our clients enhance their financial plans and make the most of their resources. To schedule a complimentary call to review your current financial strategy for the upcoming year or discuss any investment concerns you have, contact us today at service@davidblountIIPS.com or (407) 542-3249. You can also send us a message here.
David is President and CEO of Investment & Insurance Planning Services, LLC (IIPS), an independent and fee-based firm that helps clients establish their financial goals and creates custom financial plans to help them pursue those goals. They specialize in working with pre-retirees, individuals in a career transition, L3 Harris engineers, and JetBlue pilots. David’s motivation comes from seeing his clients pursue their goals. He says, “It’s very rewarding to help people make successful transitions from one career to another, start a small business, or retire.”
David received his bachelor’s degree from Troy University, and prior to becoming a financial planner in 2000, he had a nine-year career in the United States Coast Guard. He obtained the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation in 2007. He has served as the guest financial expert on Orange Television’s Adult Lifestyle Magazine Show and frequently provides financial and retirement planning workshops. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Michelle, their two kids, Ryan and Alana, their dog, Jack, and visiting with friends. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoys fishing, hiking, exercise, and as a committed person of faith, he enjoys attending church and is passionate about helping people in his community. To learn more about David, connect with him on LinkedIn.
This material was prepared for David Blount’s use.
The opinions voiced in this article are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a decision.
There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.
Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
Traditional IRA account owners have considerations to make before performing a Roth IRA conversion. These primarily include income tax consequences on the converted amount in the year of conversion, withdrawal limitations from a Roth IRA, and income limitations for future contributions to a Roth IRA. In addition, if you are required to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) in the year you convert, you must do so before converting to a Roth IRA.
The information being provided is strictly a courtesy. When you link to any of the websites mentioned, we make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these web sites. The opinions found therein are those of the author(s) of the article or website.