Like it or not, a new year is upon us—and that means looking back to see how we fared with our finances in 2021.
To help you finish the year strong (or establish a plan for future success in 2022), here are a few financial tasks to consider before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Financial task #1: Look back on your year in finances.
Did you set any financial goals for 2021? If not, that’s okay. We’ll help you come up with the best ways to build a budget—and stick to it—next year. But if you had some sort of plan in place for this year, it’s time to check in and see how you did.
Identify your methods of spending (checkbook, online checking account, credit cards, etc.) and tally up your spending according to different categories. Here is a list of typical expenses and some questions you can ask to find out where your dollars went in 2021.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
|Housing||Did your rent go up? Was your mortgage adjusted? How much did you spend on property taxes, renovations, or HOA fees?|
|Transportation||How much were your car payments? Do you pay for gas with the same card, different cards, or cash? Did you get those new snow tires yet? Don’t forget to include costs for oil changes, parking, and registration fees.|
|Food||How much did you spend on groceries? Did you visit more restaurants this year? What about your pets? Measure all food expenses against your 2021 budget, or use it as a benchmark to set goals for next year.|
|Utilities||Electric, water, gas, and garbage are all standard utility expenses. But what about your phone, cable, and internet? Add them into this spending total.|
|Now’s the time to check out any of those department-specific credit cards. Adult and children’s clothing, shoes, and outerwear are items to look at and factor into the total.|
|Healthcare||Primary care, urgent care, and trips to the dentist all fall under the healthcare category. Did you pay for any medications or medical devices? Don’t forget to check the balance on your health savings account(s).|
|Insurance||Health? Homeowner’s? Renter’s? Auto? Life? If you’re paying for insurance, it’s important to know exactly how much. You’ll be able to use this list to shop around for better rates next year.|
|Household||You probably picked up items such as toiletries, body soaps, and detergents while you were shopping for groceries. Can you find any of these expenses on the same card you used at the supermarket?|
|Personal||Expenses such as haircuts, salon visits, or babysitting services may have been paid in cash, so it’s okay to guesstimate here (but maybe you can keep a definitive list in 2022). For gym membership payments and subscriptions, check your online accounts.|
|Debt||Did you pay off any personal or student loans? What about that Visa card? If your goal was to pay off a certain percentage of these debts throughout the year, it’s time to see how you did and where you might need to make some changes.|
|Education||Did you pay for a private education for your kids? Tuition to a state college? Don’t forget to include costs for school supplies, books, and backpacks.|
|Savings||Hopefully more went into your savings then came out of it. What was your money-saving goal for 2021? How close did you come? What could you have done differently to reach your goal?|
|Gifts||Costs for birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings can add up quickly. So does spending around the holidays. Consider paying for all gifts—including donations—from the same bucket of funds. Are there any credit card cash-back or points programs to take advantage of for these expenses?|
|Entertainment||Catch any movies? Go to any concerts? Hit up any bars? Stack up your entertainment expenses against your personal expenses and see if there is any crossover so you can calculate the most accurate sums.|
Financial task #2: Assess (or re-asses) your tax withholdings.
It’s easy to assume the tax withholdings from your paycheck are on the up and up, but without a watchful eye, some of your funds can fall through the cracks. In other words, the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck could be inaccurate, which means you could owe more to the IRS when you file your tax returns. No one wants that!
Some questions to consider are:
- Did you get married or divorced?
- Did you welcome a new child into your family?
- Did you buy a home?
The answers to these questions could affect your tax withholdings.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible that your tax burden has gone down, which means you can reduce your tax withholding and generate more income over the year.
Yes, it’s complicated. And yes, there are forms involved. But we’re here to help.
If you want to “check in on your paycheck” on your own, try out the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator. This online tool is meant to help you determine whether you are paying the correct amount in taxes. From there, it will walk you through the process to make any corrections or adjustments on your W-4.
The tool can be useful, but it can also be confusing. If you’d prefer to speak to one of our licensed CPAs for the most accurate assessment and reliable assistance, you’re encouraged to call us at 716.839.9001 or contact us online today!
Financial task #3: Sell off stock for a loss to reduce your tax bill.
How’d your stocks do this year? If some of them underperformed and you’re sick of staring at them in your portfolio, you might actually benefit from selling them at a loss. Yep, you read that right. Here’s the deal:
- Selling investments to realize capital losses can reduce your tax bill
- Doing so will offset your realized capital gains
- If your capital losses are greater than your gains, you can use the difference to offset up to $3,000 of your ordinary taxable income
- If you still have capital losses left over, you can roll them over to offset your income in future years
- This process is called “tax-loss harvesting” and it is 100% LEGAL to do
- If you sell an investment through tax-loss harvesting, you cannot buy a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of buying or selling the stock; this is known as the “wash-sale rule”
Are there ways to avoid the wash-rule? Yes, and we can help.
If you’re interested in finding out how you might be able to leverage tax-loss harvesting before the new year, let us know!
With professional input from our team of experienced CPAs, accounting associates, and tax preparers—you can finish the financial year strong!