Piggy bank

15 Money-Smart Things to Do
for the New Year

The holidays are behind us, and you’ve set your vision for 2020. Now, how do you get started putting your best financial foot forward? Our expert team of wealth managers and investment specialists have pulled together a list of 15 tips to save money and manage your wealth for the new year.

1. Review last year’s spending

Start your 2020 budgeting by looking back and seeing where your money went last year. There are many apps, computer programs and on-line tools, such as mint.com, that can help you categorize your spending and put things into perspective. Do you see any areas where you might be able to cut back to reallocate money toward savings and investments?

2. Save money on telecom services

One area you may be able to easily cut back on is telecom services. Review your cell phone, cable or satellite, and internet plans to see if you can make any cost-saving changes. Maybe you don’t need all those movie channels. Or you can bundle services. A few calls to your service providers to see what new plans they have to offer could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

3. Review your insurance policies

A new year is a good time to look at your auto, property and life insurance policies to see if you should make any changes. Increasing deductibles or dropping full coverage on that old car could save you money. Did you buy a glamorous necklace or historic artwork? Then maybe you should look into increasing your property coverage. Also check that your beneficiaries are up to date.

4. Maximize tax-deferred savings

Are you setting aside the most the IRS will allow toward your tax-deferred savings accounts? The contribution limit this year for 401(k)s is $19,500 ($26,000 for people 50 and older), and $6,000 for IRAs ($7,000 for 50 and older). A Health Savings Account is another great option if you have a high-deductible health plan. Be sure to at least take advantage of any company matches, which is essentially free money.

5. Increase contributions to higher education

Once you’ve reviewed your budget, perhaps you can set aside more for your child’s or grandchildren’s higher education. A 529 savings plan is a flexible, state-operated investment plan that allows your earnings to grow tax-free for a student who attends any college, university, vocational school or other post-secondary institution that accepts federal aid. And now up to $10,000 per year can be used for elementary or secondary school tuition as well.

6. Take advantage of other tax-free gift giving

Another way to pay for a loved one’s education, or pay down expensive medical bills, is to give a tax-free gift. You can pay for anyone’s education or medical expenses, so long as the payment is made directly to the institution. This way, it is not considered a taxable gift and does not use any of your $15,000 per person annual gift tax exemption.

7. Contribute highly appreciated assets to your donor-advised fund

Donating securities or real estate through a donor-advised charitable fund is a great way to support the causes that are important to you and save on taxes, too. Maximize your charitable contribution deductions by donating long-term, highly appreciated assets to reduce your capital gains.

8. Set up a Roth for your working kid

If your child is earning any taxable income, then you can help them set up a Roth IRA in their own name to give them a fantastic head-start on retirement savings. You can contribute to your child’s ROTH without it affecting annual contribution limits to your own IRA accounts, but it will count toward the annual gift tax exemption limit.

9. Check title of your assets

If you have a revocable living trust, check that the assets are properly titled in the name of the trust to avoid probate. It is also a good time to ensure that certain beneficiary designations refer to your living trust, if applicable. Also make sure other documentation is in place so your heirs may avoid a property tax increase when real estate transfers to them.

10. Pull your annual credit reports

Review your credit reports to check for inaccuracies and potential fraud. The three major credit bureaus are Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You’re entitled to one free report for any reason every 12 months. You can easily get reports from all three at AnnualCreditReport.com. Some banks and financial services also offer credit reports or scores for free. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

11. Change passwords

Protect yourself against identity theft by changing the passwords for your various financial accounts. The FTC has tips on creating strong passwords and other information on keeping your personal information secure.

12. Start getting your tax documents in order

The sooner you start assembling your tax documents, the better. The whole process will go much more smoothly for you and your tax professionals, there’s less chance of something being overlooked, and you may be able to file early and get that refund sooner.

13. Shred documents

Start the year off organized by multi-tasking. As you go through your files to collect tax information, you can also get rid of old documents you don’t need. Keep seven years of income tax returns and all gift tax returns.

14. Don’t get caught up in the media frenzy and short-term madness

It’s important to not focus on the 24-hour news cycle and market talking heads. Instead, keep your eyes on the long-term prize of financial independence, successful family planning and overall peace of mind. Having a plan in place and trusted advisors to work with will help you through those periods of uncertainty when Twitter is ablaze and the markets are uncooperative.

15. Meet with your financial advisor

The status of your future financial independence is not static, it’s fluid. Every year, no matter what your age or place in life’s transitions, you should update your retirement projection and financial plan. Schedule an appointment with your financial advisor today to review your portfolio and set your goals for 2020.

(The following Aspiriant experts contributed to this article: Chief Client Officer Tom Tracy; Mary Ellen Krueger, director in wealth management; John Collins, director in wealth management; Kelly Cruz, director in strategic planning; Phillip Parkerson, director in investment operations; Jason Shemtob, manager in wealth management.)

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its original Jan. 12, 2017, publication date.