Your Year-End Financial Checklist

By Steve Tepper, CFP®, MBA


It’s once again time for our annual reprint of a handy year-end financial checklist. I think we’re up to about 10 years in a row we’ve done this. As I’m way too lazy to rifle through a decade of old newsletters, I officially, if not accurately, dub this our 10th Annual Checklist. Enjoy:

Employer-sponsored retirement accounts: In order to take a deduction for contributions to an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) or a SIMPLE IRA, you must make your contribution through payroll deduction by the end of the year.

Your primary goal should be to save at least enough to earn any company match offered. Contribution limits for 2018 if you are under 50 are $12,500 for a SIMPLE IRA and $18,500 for a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan. If you are over 50, the limits are $15,500 for the SIMPLE and $24,500 for the 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b).

Charitable giving: Make your contributions (either of cash or donated goods) by the end of the year, and get a receipt from the charity.

Gifting: You can contribute up to $15,000 per recipient per year ($30,000 if married and filing jointly). This includes contributing to your child’s 529 college savings plan. Note: Gifting is not tax deductible, but gifting in excess of limits could result in a very high gift tax.

Required minimum distribution: If you are older than 70 ½ years at the end of the year, you must take a distribution from your tax-deferred retirement savings. This is important because the penalty for not taking your RMD is very high—as much as 50% of the amount you should have taken!

RMD rules can also apply to inherited retirement assets even if you are younger than 70 ½. There is a small caveat to all of this, however. The year you turn 70 ½ you can delay your distribution until the following year. But that would mean you would have to take two distributions that year (one for the prior year and one for the current year).

See the doctor: Most medical and dental plans offer free annual or biannual wellness visits. Of course, nothing is free—you are paying for those appointments through those astronomical monthly insurance premiums. Or you may have already maxed out your out-of-pocket health care costs for the year. In either case, take advantage and go to see your doctor and dentist for a checkup.

Spend all your FSA dollars: Though they are not common these days, some people have flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to cover routine medical expenses such as prescriptions and doctor co-pays.  So, if there’s still money in that account, get all your prescriptions refilled or get an extra pair of glasses. Maybe that’s why optometrists always walk around with a big smile in December.

Check your credit report: You can get a free credit report from each of the major credit agencies once a year. You can do this any time of the year, but if you haven’t done so this year, now is a good time. is a good place to start.

Talk to your financial advisor: If you haven’t talked to us in a year, let’s get together or just catch up on the phone. It is important that we touch base with you occasionally to check our strategy and plan, especially if you have had important life-changing events this past year or anticipate big changes in 2019.

On behalf of the Northstar staff, I wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season and new year.