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Fail-Proof Your New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap — and for good reason. They are wildly unsuccessful. Millions of people have well-intentioned aspirations for the New Year, but only about one in 10 actually accomplish their goal, according to the Statistic Brain Research Center.

If you dig a little deeper into the reasons why they fail, you find it’s usually not the resolution itself, it’s in the execution. Here are four popular New Year’s resolutions and how to avoid messing them up:

  1. Resolution #1: Becoming healthier. The most popular resolution can take on many forms — losing weight, getting in better shape, eating healthier, and so on. This resolution usually fails because to be successful, it takes a major lifestyle change. You’re fighting against months or maybe years of poor behaviors, so expecting wholesale changes right out of the gate is not reasonable.
    Make it fail-proof: Start with smaller, simpler goals like not eating after 8 p.m., or exercising for 20 minutes a day for three times a week. Hitting manageable goals will build momentum and create good habits.
  2. Resolution #2: Spending less money. Depending on how much you spent on Christmas, this one might take care of itself for a few weeks. But if you don’t have a spending plan or budget, old spending habits will re-emerge.
    Make it fail-proof: Take some time at the beginning of the year to jot down some long-term spending and savings goals and then work backwards to figure out how those goals will affect your weekly purchases. As the year goes on, continue to track your progress and evaluate your purchases.
  3. Resolution #3: Getting more organized. Going from being disorganized to organized is not a quick fix. To make the switch, it takes an evaluation of your entire environment. Most people don’t have the time for such an extensive process so they buy some bins, stuff them full and call it good. That’s not going to work and it’ll cost you money.
    Make it fail-proof: Instead, start small. Pick one room in your house or one aspect of your life to focus on, like health care bills or your tax documents. Once you get some traction, you can apply the methods you learned to other things. Incremental improvement is the best long-term approach.
  4. Resolution #4: Spending less time on electronics. If this is a resolution that’s important to you, odds are you’ve had some trouble keeping electronic usage under control. With so many games, social media and streaming options at our fingertips, our brains are now conditioned to be engaged electronically at all times.
    Make it fail-proof: One way to start to break this habit is to change the accessibility you have to your devices. Remove apps from your phone and keep your devices out of reach when you don’t need them. Another way to curb electronic usage is to form a different habit, such as reading.

Resolutions, whether at New Year’s or any other time, are a good thing. To be successful, more planning and attention are required than most people think. And if you slip up, don’t quit! Learn from your mistakes and keeping going.

Save Money With These Year-End Ideas

There’s still time to reduce your potential tax obligation and save money this year (and next). Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Estimate your 2019 and 2020 taxable income. With these estimates you can determine which year receives the greatest benefit from a reduction in income. By understanding what the tax rate will be for your next dollar earned, you can understand the tax benefit of reducing income this year AND next year.
  • Fund tax-deferred retirement accounts. An easy way to reduce your taxable income is to fully fund retirement accounts that have tax-deferred status. The most common accounts are 401(k)s, 403(b)s and various IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE).
  • Take your required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you are 70½ or older, you need to take required RMDs from your retirement accounts by Dec. 31. Don’t forget to make all RMDs because the fines are hefty if you don’t — 50 percent of the amount you should have withdrawn.
    Keep in mind, even if you don’t have RMDs yet, removing a planned amount from your retirement accounts each year may be more tax efficient than waiting until you are required to do so.
  • Manage your gains and losses. Rebalance your investment portfolio, and take any final investment gains and losses. When you have more losses than gains, up to $3,000 can be used to reduce your ordinary income. With careful planning, you can take advantage of this loss amount each year.
  • Finalize your gift-giving strategy. Each year you may gift up to $15,000 without tax reporting consequences to as many individuals as you choose. Consider any gift-giving you wish to make up to the annual limit. This could include gifts of cash or property, and investments.
  • Donate to charities. Consider making end-of-year donations to eligible charities. Donations of property in good or better condition and your charitable mileage are also deductible. Receiving proper documentation that acknowledges your contributions is important to ensure you obtain the full deduction. Have a plan by knowing your total deductions for the year to help you decide how much and when to donate. Pulling some donations planned for 2020 into 2019 may be a good strategy.
  • Review your automated billing transactions. This is a good time to identify what automatic monthly expenses should be reviewed for reduction or elimination. You may also discover billing for services you thought were canceled. This specific review often catches errors that a simple account reconciliation may be missing.
  • Organize records now. Start collecting and organizing your tax records to avoid the scramble come tax season.
  • Develop your own list. Use these ideas as a jumping off point to create your own list of annual review items. It might also include reviewing college savings accounts, beneficiaries, insurance needs, wills, and going through an aging parent’s financial accounts.

Year-End Tax Checklist

As the year draws to a close, there are several tax-saving ideas you should consider. Use this checklist to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity before the year is out.

Retirement distributions and contributions. Make final contributions to your qualified retirement plan, and take any required minimum distributions from your retirement accounts. The penalty for not taking minimum distributions can be high.

Investment management. Rebalance your investment portfolio, and take any final investment gains and losses. Capital losses can be used to net against your capital gains. You can also take up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains each year and use it to lower your taxable ordinary income.

Last-minute charitable giving. Make a late-year charitable donation. Even better, make the donation with appreciated stock you’ve owned more than a year. You often can make a larger donation and get a larger deduction without paying capital gains taxes.

Noncash donation opportunity. Gather up non-cash items for donation, document the items, and give those in good condition to your favorite charity. Make sure you get a receipt from the charity, and take a photo of the items donated.

Gifts to dependents and others. You may provide gifts to an individual of up to $14,000 per year in total. Remember that all gifts given (birthdays, holidays, etc.) count toward the annual total.

Organize records now. Start collecting and organizing your end-of-year tax records. Estimate your tax liability and make any required estimated tax payments.

Cut Your Tax Season Stress in Half

Make things easier on yourself with a few quick steps you can take now to help cut down on tax season stress.  Here are a few suggestions:

Plan to organize early.  Set aside a folder to collect what you’ll need:

  • W-2’s from your employer
  • 1099’s for other income earned
  • Bank and other financial statements
  • Receipts for things like medical bills and charitable donations
  • Childcare information and your dependents’ income
  • If you’ve refinanced or bought a new home – we need those docs, too!

A tax meeting is not necessary if there have been no major changes within the last year.  However, if you feel you do need a tax meeting, please contact our office early to schedule an appointment.  My schedule fills up fast!