Did 2016 not go as planned? Did you spend too much and save less than you wanted? Perhaps your bad habits left you in debt. Or maybe you just had too many big expenses this year.
No matter why your financial performance was less than stellar, there’s no reason to despair. A single year won’t make or break your future wealth. Over time, the little moves you make every year are the ones that really matter.
That’s right; one bad year could be nothing more than a blip on the radar in the long run. And let’s not forget, this year isn’t over. With several weeks left, you still have time to salvage the rest of the year, maximize its potential and leave your 2017 self better off.
To find out which money moves most people should make before this year is over, I reached out to several financial advisers who help clients recover from bad years all the time. Here’s what they said.
1. Look for Last-Minute Ways to Save on Your Tax Bill
Few things are certain in life outside of death and taxes. While you can’t do anything about the former, some last-minute moves can definitely shake up your tax bill.
Kansas City, Missouri-based financial planner Clint Haynes recommends meeting with your accountant prior to the end of the year. That way, you can figure out where you stand — and whether you will owe money or receive a tax refund.
Advice will vary depending on your financial situation, but a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can guide you on what to do. If it looks like you’ll owe the tax man come April, for example, your CPA may suggest making tax-deductible contributions to an IRA or your favorite charity.
Your accountant may also suggest contributing to a donor-advised fund (DAF),” says San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte.
DAF contributions provide a federal income tax deduction up to 50% of adjusted gross income for cash contributions and up to 30% of adjusted gross income for appreciated securities, making it possible to reduce your tax liability significantly.
2. Revise Your Spending Habits & Revisit Your Budget
If you earned plenty this year but have little to show for it, now is the perfect time to figure out why.
“Revisit your monthly budget,” says financial adviser David Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
When was the last time you looked at your budget? Do you even have a budget in place? Are you living paycheck to paycheck with very little left over for savings?
“This is a great time to create or rework your budget so you can get yourself ahead as the new year unfolds,” says Niggel. “There are plenty of tools that you can use to create a basic budget so that you can track income and expenses. These tools will show you places where you may be spending too much money, such as eating out and shopping.”
3. Take Advantage of Tax-Loss Harvesting
Before the year is over, take a look at all the positions in your taxable accounts, says Oregon financial adviser and president of Three Oaks Capital Management Grant Bledsoe.
“If any of [your investments] have fallen in value, you might consider liquidating some to harvest the tax loss,” he says.
The way this works is simple. Basically, any realized losses work to offset your realized capital gains. If you have realized gains that you took earlier in the year, you can harvest losses to reduce some of the tax consequences. Plus, you can even use up to $3,000 per year of short-term capital losses to offset your income.
“When doing so, make sure that you adhere to the 30-day wash sale rule,” says Bledsoe. “This means that you can’t buy a substantially identical security for up to 30 days without forfeiting the tax loss from a sale. You can, however, replace the security with something similar.”
While tax-loss harvesting may sound complex, it’s possible your financial adviser or online advisory firm offers this service for free. If you use online financial services, for example, your account may already offer tax-loss harvesting at no additional cost.
4. Rebalance Your Portfolio
Imagine your portfolio as a pie — a circular object or graphic where each section of your diversified portfolio represents a slice. Over the course of a year, those pieces of the pie perform differently, potentially causing one piece of the pie to become larger while others shrink.
“The end of the year marks a great time to rebalance your portfolio back to your desired allocation,” says Minnesota financial adviser Jamie Pomeroy. In other words, you would remake your pie so it’s back to your preferred level of risk.
“Consider rebalancing your investment portfolio before the end of the year, not only as a risk-management technique, but [also to] create opportunities for other important end of the year investment management strategies as well — like tax-loss harvesting, gifting and scheduled distributions,” says Pomeroy.
This is also a great time to reassess your appetite for risk, says Halifax wealth adviser Ariz David.
“Headlines throughout 2016 have overwhelmingly been dominated by global political and economic issues,” says David. “If you had a few sleepless nights in 2016 due to market volatility, then you may want to take some steps to reduce risk in your portfolio in 2017.”
5. Review Your Health Insurance Needs
While it’s easy to assume your health insurance plan won’t change from one year to the next, uncertainty in the healthcare exchanges and group plans could mean your plan will cease to exist — or change its details dramatically.
Since open enrollment for plans purchased on state and federal exchanges extends through January 31, 2017, you’ve got time to shop if you purchase insurance yourself. If you enjoy employer coverage, make sure to check with your Human Resources department to see what changes are being made to your plan, if any.
“It is also important to review your contributions to health savings accounts (HSA) in 2016 and make sure you are saving enough in 2017 to cover your anticipated health-related expenses,” says North Carolina wealth adviser Peter Huminski.
The 2016 HSA contribution limits are $3,350 for an individual and $6,750 for a family, and the limits will be higher for individuals next year.
6. Consider Refinancing (Everything) at Today’s Low Rates
With the elections over and a new crew heading into the White House, it’s hard to say how the economy or interest rates might change next year. Now may be your last chance to refinance your mortgage and other loans at today’s low rates.
“Mortgage rates have been at historical lows for several years now, and they aren’t going to stay here forever,” says financial adviser Andrew McFadden. “The good news, though, for anyone who hasn’t refinanced yet is that there is still time to take advantage of these super-cheap interest rates.”
If you’ve been putting it off and telling yourself that you’ll “get to it someday,” consider using the end of 2016 to make good on the smart financial decision to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate. (Just make sure you know where your credit stands, as this may affect whether you qualify. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
By filling out some paperwork and jumping through a few hoops, you could save thousands of dollars in interest and/or pay off your home and other large loans faster.