The approaching year end offers a great time to reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014. In addition to evaluating our personal lives, we should also give the same consideration to our financial lives. This is true whether you are just starting out in federal service, putting your kids through school, or about to embark on retirement. There are always changes that might be worth making to better your overall situation, and hopefully this article will give you some food for thought as you go through that process.
Review of Past Year
In order to start looking at what to do going forward, it is important to start with where you’ve been. Here are few items to put together before you begin planning:
- What was your taxable income in 2013? What do you expect it to be in 2014?
- What tax bracket are you in, and how close are you to the one above or below?
- How much have you already contributed to TSP? Are you eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA as well?
- Do you have non-retirement investments that have unrealized capital gains or losses? Are they short or long term?
- Have you done all of the charitable giving that you planned to do?
- Did you pay 2013 property taxes yet?
Some Ideas to Consider for 2013
Once you have a handle on your current status, there are several different options available to maximize your situation before the end of the year (or tax deadline). They could include any or all of the following:
- Make an IRA or Roth IRA contribution.
- Convert part of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
- Decide which year to pay property taxes in.
- Realize long or short term capital gains or capital losses.
- Plan to spend any “use it or lose it” flexible spending account balances that expire at the end of the year.
Changes for Next Year
Looking ahead to 2014, it is important to set yourself up properly to maximize your benefits throughout the year. This can include both financial and federal benefit considerations.
- Review your TSP contribution amount. Are you maxed out? Can you increase your contribution level, even incrementally? If you’re over 50, are you taking advantage of the catch-up contribution?
- Review your TSP contributions to determine if they should be going towards the traditional or Roth account. See my other articles on the subject for more information.
- Review your TSP allocation. Is it appropriate for your age and financial situation? Keep in mind that the TSP is only part of an overall retirement plan, and all parts should be considered when putting together an investment strategy.
- Review your FEGLI coverage, as well as other life insurance coverage. Do you have enough, or possibly more than you need? Are you getting the most cost effective option?
- Adjust flexible spending elections for 2014 based on your anticipated eligible expenses.
As you get closer to retirement, it becomes increasingly crucial to pay attention to how you are doing and whether you are on track. When you have that date in your mind, it can be very disheartening to feel like you are not ready when you get there. If changes are required, such as budget adjustments or moving the date, it is much easier to make them earlier in the process. You should review your plan at least annually, including the federal annuity, Social Security, TSP, other investments, and anything else that will have an impact. These issues can be complex, and consulting with someone with expertise in this area may provide peace of mind from knowing you are on the right track.
You should think of your estate plan the same way you think of a smoke detector. You don’t want to need it, but it needs to work if something happens. Just as you change the batteries in your smoke detectors regularly, you should also regularly check in on your estate plan. Some elements of that review should include:
- Verify beneficiaries on all accounts and benefits.
- Other life insurance
- Federal annuity
- Last paycheck
- All retirement and investment accounts
- Checking and savings accounts
- Is your will current?
- Are all accounts titled properly (single, joint, trust, etc.)?
- Do all accounts have beneficiaries named?
- Do you have all recommended powers of attorney (financial, health care)?
- Do you have guardians named for your dependent children?
- Do you need any specialty estate planning tools, such as a revocable trust, etc.?
- Do the appropriate people know of your wishes and where to find important documents?
The New Year is a time for reflection and renewal, and that makes it a great opportunity to review your financial goals as well. We all make those resolutions to lose ten pounds, go to the gym, or stop some bad habit, but we could also resolve to spend less, save more, or finally get around to putting that will together. Good luck as you make your own game plan, but don’t hesitate to contact a professional to review it and provide any assistance necessary.