While it's tempting to slip into an eggnog stupor from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day, there are five items we should all check off our to-do lists before the ball drops on 2014.
Review your loss carryforward numbers. If you have any capital loss carryforward from previous years, now is a good time to take some profits. You can take your gains and offset them against your carryforward, plus $3,000. Who knows when our desperate government will still demand its share of our gains via taxes but leave us alone to cover our losses? Offset those carryforward losses and take some profits where it makes sense to do so.
Maximize your 401(k) and IRA contributions. If you're over 50, don't forget the catch-up contribution. You can contribute $17,500 per year to a 401(k), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $5,500. If you have an IRA, you can contribute $5,500, plus a catch-up contribution of $1,000. Check with your CPA for the details specific to you.
If you're in the 25% income tax bracket, a maximum contribution to an IRA could reduce your 2013 income taxes by $1,625; a 401(k) maximum contribution could reduce it by $5,750.
It might sound like pedestrian advice; however, I harp on this topic because only 10% of those working contribute the legal maximum to their 401(k)s. The bottom line is: you can save money for retirement and reduce your tax bill in one swoop. Frankly, it really saddens me that more people don't take full advantage of these opportunities. If you cannot afford to contribute the maximum, do the best you can and aim to increase your contribution each year.
Talk to your CPA about tax changes stemming from Obamacare. This is a complicated topic and may affect you in ways you wouldn't anticipate. There's an additional tax on health savings account distributions, and over-the-counter medicines no longer qualify as medical expenses for certain purposes, among other changes. We recommend checking with your accountant for specifics.
Talk with all your doctors about Obamacare. I have several doctor friends and some have announced early retirement. They would rather stop practicing medicine than deal with the fallout surrounding the new healthcare law.
I also just saw my ophthalmologist, and he said the government is reducing his reimbursement drastically and changing when he can perform procedures like cataract surgery.
Like it or not, Obamacare is the now law of the land. Everyone has different health concerns, and it's in your best interest talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. You don't want to find out your doctor cannot treat you or that insurance won't cover a procedure when you're in need of immediate care. That's the wrong time to start investigating alternatives.
You need to know if your doctor is going to opt out of Medicare or other insurance plans. Don't be shy; just ask and lessen the chance of an unpleasant surprise.
Take advantage family togetherness by discussing the tough topics. When our children were in grade school, a friend who was well versed in fashionable child-rearing techniques sold me on regular family meetings. The rules were pretty simple: every family member could bring up issues without Mom and Dad getting angry.
Our first family meeting is legendary in our family lore. My youngest son piped up and announced he wanted an increase in his allowance. For a first-grader, he built a great case, explaining what his allowance would and would not buy and lobbying for an increase. I looked at my wife, who was grinning from ear to ear, decided he'd made a good argument, and doubled his allowance.
From that point forward, family meetings were a Miller tradition. My first set of children are now in their 50s, and when we get together for the holidays, they still know they can call a meeting.
Some seniors find it difficult to discuss touchy issues with their children. Some friends used to take their grandchildren to Disneyworld when they reached a certain age. Their children and grandchildren had come to expect it. When the tradition began to strain the budget, they decided to 'fess up and tell their children they could no longer afford it. Their children completely understood. Even better, the parents of the grandchild who was next in line proudly announced they could afford it and invited Grandma and Grandpa to Disney as guests for a change.
Multi-generational family dynamics can be complicated, so don't stop discussing the hard stuff with your children just because they're adults.
2013 was a year of extreme predictions. Some pundits recommend going "all in" the market next year, while others say to sell everything. Both are lousy approaches for protecting your nest egg. The former is too risky for retirees, but the latter approach will leave you without adequate income and vulnerable to inflation.
There is a third alternative.
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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.