As we near the year's end, it's a great time to look back and start planning ahead. Yup, it's that time of year when we can kick back, review our money game, and maybe tweak a few things here and there. With a whole year's worth of info, habits, goals, and wins in our rearview mirror, taking a second to reflect can pay off.
So, we put together a list of the top 10 things to sort out before the year wraps—promise, it's not gonna be a major task!
Review your budget
A majority of Americans say they budget, as high as 84%, but very few do it routinely and stick to it. In fact, 83% of them say they overspend each month, and 44% of them are using credit cards to cover the difference.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by budgeting, especially with guidelines such as the 50/30/20 rule, the 28% housing rule, and so on.
At the end of the day, these are nothing more than “rules” and aren't meant to define your unique situation.
Your budget can (and should) change over the course of a year. Maybe you've paid off your debt and it's no longer part of your monthly spending, maybe you've added some, maybe your income changed, car insurance cost increased, or rent decreased. The end result? The proportions of your budget categories have inevitably shifted, and they require review every once in a while, especially at the end of the year.
Want to make it easier? Just log into your Origin account and head to our budgeting tool —found under the “Spending” page. Here, you can set your monthly income + savings goals, and let Origin help you build a budget. Plus, you can create custom categories to see your spending in a way that makes sense for you.
Top tip: If you have student loans that resumed in October, be sure to start including those in your 2024 budget.
Review your retirement and health savings
Retirement planning and secondary saving should be just as much a part of your budget as groceries and housing. Origin financial planners now recommend saving 20% of your income toward retirement.
Year’s end is a great time to review how you’re tracking toward your retirement goals and look at where you stand in relation to where you want to go. But for the 56% of Americans who feel as if they’re not on track to retire comfortably, what do you do? The answer — plan and find actionable steps to change. This is great to do with your financial planner, and if you don't have one, you can meet with one in Origin for $119/session.
The end of the year also comes with some hard deadlines that impact you come tax time, so stay alert.
For 2023, your Roth and traditional 401(k) contribution limits sit at $22,500 if you’re under 50, and $30,000 for catch-up contributions if you’re 50+. 401(k) contributions must be made by Dec 31st unlike their IRA counterparts.
For IRA owners, your contribution limits sit at $6,500 for those under 50 and $7,500 for those who are 50+. IRA contributions can be deducted from your 2023 income and counted toward 2023’s contributions up until the tax filing deadline on April 18th, 2024.
Health savings accounts, (HSAs) much like 401(k)s, meet their contribution deadline at the end of the year. For 2023, those limits are $3,850 for individuals and $7,750 for families.
Top tip: If you haven’t yet maxed out any of these but plan to, keep these deadlines in mind and act accordingly. Even if you can’t max out but still have room to contribute more, make sure to do so by the deadline to reap the tax benefits next year.
File claims for reimbursement from FSA accounts
For those who have flexible spending accounts (FSAs), year’s end is an especially important time as your spending deadline arrives.
Unlike funds in your HSA that roll over, any FSA funds that are left unused will be returned to your employer. Because of this, employees reportedly forfeit upwards of $1B annually in unused funds. You typically need to have incurred the cost by 12/31 each year.
Some companies do offer a grace period of 2.5 months which can extend the deadline to 3/15. Additionally, your employer may have a provision to allow you to roll over up to $640 in unused funds into the new plan year. This amount is set by the IRS and can change from year to year. In any event, you should always review documentation or talk with your employer about the deadlines and rules associated with your FSA.
If you’re one of the roughly 22M Americans with an FSA, the traditional deadline to spend that money and submit claims for reimbursement is Dec 31st. However, if your employer offers the 2.5-month grace period, you’ll have up until March 15th, 2024.
With FSAs being a “use it or lose it” type of account with no rollover, there’s essentially no benefit in not spending that money.
Top tip: If you find that your FSA is still flush with cash in December, it’s wise to find some eligible items to spend that on — even if it’s just a medical “nice to have” rather than a need.
Review college savings
For those who have children, or even want to save for further education themselves, reviewing your college savings plan, goals, and progress is another great place to dive into towards the end of the year.
Most college savings plans, including 529s and Coverdell ESA accounts, aren’t tax-deductible on a federal level, but you may be able to reduce your state and local taxes depending on the plan. Nevertheless, they both carry the added benefit of tax-free growth, meaning the earlier you save and invest, the better.
529s have the classic end-of-year deadline in most states whereas ESAs allow up until the tax-filing deadline of the following year.
As the year closes, now is a good time to review your plan for college savings, or put one in place if it’s a goal you have. If you’re already saving, compare where you are with where your goal is, and see what adjustments you might need to make in your budget in order to hit those goals.
Top tip: You don’t have to use your own state’s 529 plan, and another might offer greater tax benefits anyways. Take some time to research all of the options out there and pick one that maximizes your benefits.
Rebalance investments and harvest losses
Much like your budget, your portfolio can (and likely will) shift over the year. When certain holdings outperform others, some assets will hold a greater weight (value) than others.
Year’s end is the ideal time to review this and make changes aligned with your allocation goals. For example — if your goal is to have 90% of your portfolio value be in equity and 10% in bonds, but this year’s tech rally has skewed that to 93% equity, that means it’s time to rebalance by selling some stocks to bring things back to your equilibrium.
Continuing in the spirit of selling, December is a valuable time to harvest some portfolio losses, and it’s also the deadline to incur those capital losses. Using the above example, an investor could pick 3% of their losing stocks to sell, achieving both a rebalancing and some carefully selected capital losses to reduce their taxable income.
Top tip: Don’t just rebalance, reconfigure your asset allocation if you feel like you’re underperforming or overexposed at a risk level you’re not comfortable with.
Make your charitable contributions
Americans donated almost $500B in 2022, and that number is expected to climb this year. Not only are charitable contributions good for the soul, but they’re also good for the wallet.
With the IRS allowing taxpayers to deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) for donations, they’re perhaps one of the biggest line-item deductions you can make. While this is mostly applicable to high-earners, it can make a huge difference in your tax bill. Someone with a $200K income and in the 32% tax bracket could donate and deduct $30,000 to put themselves into the 24% bracket.
And charitable contributions don’t get the extended deadline of next April — they must be made by the end of the year, so now is the time to donate if you’re planning to or considering it.
Top tip: Did you know that you can actually invest your charitable contributions? With a donor-advised fund, you can let your donation grow over time to create an even greater tax advantage when you decide to donate.
Pay down debts & review student loans
Between the anticlimactic student loan forgiveness saga and Americans surpassing $1T in credit card debt for the first time — debt has been a big theme of 2023. While debt can certainly be valuable if used carefully, it’s more widely known for hurting your finances, and that’s what we want to help you avoid.
As the year comes to a close, now is the time to review your debt situation and craft a plan to escape it. Whether it’s student loans, credit cards, or anything in between, it’s important to take an honest look at where you stand and route your way toward a debt-free future.
Your Origin app is a great place to start. After linking your accounts, you can quickly and easily get an overview of your liabilities, and actionable tips and insights on how to reduce your debt and improve your financial situation.
Your Origin financial planner is also an invaluable resource to tap into when it comes to navigating your debts. They can help you create a plan that works for you and your situation, and walk alongside your journey to financial freedom. Origin planners are available for 45-minute sessions at $119/session, and if you’ve yet to meet with one, year’s end is an excellent time to start.
Top tip: If you can’t pay off your balances right now, consider a balance transfer to a card with a 0% APR offer.
Consider exercising stock options before year’s end
Equity is a convoluted landscape to navigate for most employees, and we’re here to help with tons of resources on the matter.
Most employees don’t know the right time to exercise their stock options—or the impact of equity on taxes.
How you’re taxed on your equity comes down to the type of option you have. With NSOs, you’ll likely face ordinary income tax rates, whereas with ISOs, you could be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
In both cases, it may make sense to exercise at least some of your options by year’s end, especially if you expect your income to increase next year or in the years ahead and are bullish on the prospects of your equity. Exercising now could end up saving you money in taxes as well as when you eventually sell your shares. When exercising any options, you should always keep in mind your liquidity needs as well as your risk tolerance.
Top tip: Carefully review your tax situation and the details of your options + vesting schedule before making any decisions here. And of course, meeting with an Origin planner never hurts either.
Review your credit report
One of the cornerstones of the modern financial system, credit scores are the entry key to…well, almost everything money-related.
Not only does your credit score impact your eligibility for loans, leases, mortgages, and more, but it also impacts the amount you spend on interest expenses, and can even influence your car insurance rates.
Because of this all-encompassing influence it exerts, your credit report is incredibly important, and it should be monitored routinely. If you haven’t checked your report recently, year’s end is the perfect time to do so.
You can quickly and painlessly get your credit score within the Origin app, as well as view a comprehensive breakdown of your debts, current and past accounts, collections status, and even a glimpse of your public record.
Top tip: Don’t just check your credit score, but make sure to look at all accounts and addresses on your credit report too — identity theft can easily hide here.
Review your insurance coverage and estate plan
No financial review would be complete without a check-in on your insurance and estate plan(s)n. Insurance is something that fluctuates regularly in terms of coverage needs, and your estate plan is something that should be routinely updated, especially if you have dependents.
Per Nationwide, roughly two-thirds of homes in the U.S. are underinsured right now, falling short by an average of 22%.
Not a homeowner? Stay tuned. Only about 57% of Americans who rent have renter’s insurance, leaving them and their possessions entirely exposed in the event of a disaster.
You also might have health coverage that’s not optimized for your situation. A 2018 analysis showed that 75% of individuals would’ve been better off having an HDHP + HSA combo than their usual health coverage. Amongst the participants analyzed, young people (ages 25-34) benefitted the most, saving an estimated $566 annually by going HDHP over PPO.
Overpaying for car insurance by not comparing policies, bundling, utilizing available discounts, or eliminating unnecessary coverage is also extremely common. Make sure to take the time to check around, and leave no stone unturned.
Many people routinely sign up for life insurance policies that don’t make sense for their situation, costing them hundreds of extra dollars per year. This deserves some review time as well. And we admit, life insurance can be confusing — why not meet with an Origin planner and let them guide you to the right choice?
Finally, did you know that only a bit less than half of Americans have a will? But the bigger problem — who knows how many millions more have a will that is outdated, not optimized, or that they want to change but simply…haven’t? We’re here to provide a year’s end reminder and bountiful resources to help you stop procrastinating.
Top tip: Think this sounds like a lot of insurance? It is, but it’s necessary for your overall financial well-being. The good news — bundling all of these policies is known to save policyholders upwards of 10% depending on the policy combinations.
Ultimately, remember that this 10-item list is just a guideline, and your financial situation may require a list unique to you. A great way to get started in this process is to meet with a financial planner in Origin. You can quickly and easily sign up for a free preview, and 1-on-1 planning sessions are available for $119. Your planner can help you create a plan worth following to assist you in hitting all of these goals by year-end, and into 2024 as well.