Last-minute financial moves to make before year end

There aren’t many days left in 2019.

Yet it isn’t too late to make some moves to improve your finances before the new year starts.

Instead of thinking of it as a resolution, use this time as an opportunity to form new, healthy money habits that will last throughout your life, said certified financial planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder of Financial Fountains in Baltimore and a member of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council.

“You want to be able to celebrate what you’ve done well as you reflect on the year and challenge yourself to do better the next year,” she said.

Here are seven financial strategies that can improve your financial outlook before you ring in the new year.

1. Minimize your taxes

If you are cashing in investments that made you some money this year, you’ll wind up paying taxes on those gains. To minimize the impact, you can also consider selling assets that lost value.

It’s called tax-loss harvesting. By selling assets at a loss, it will make up for some of the gains you made and should reduce the amount of taxes you will have to pay.

This is something you can do any time of the year, said CFP Douglas Boneparth, president and founder of Boneparth Wealth in New York.

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However, the Dec. 31 deadline is nearing. So if it’s something you want to do but haven’t yet, now is the time.

You may just not have as many losses as gains, given the record year in the stock market.

“If you have been a disciplined investor and allocated properly, you will probably find yourself with more gains than losses, hopefully,” said Boneparth, a member of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council.

2. Take your required minimum distributions

If you are over age 70½ or have inherited an IRA , you have until Dec. 31 to take your required minimum distributions from your individual retirement accounts or 401(k) plans.

If not, you’ll be subject to a penalty to a 50% of the amount that should have been withdrawn.

3. Budget for a specific goal in 2020

Tourists on the beach in San Diego

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Whether you want to take a vacation or buy a new car next year, start planning for it now.

“Now, before the year even starts, be very specific about your goals, how much it is going to cost and when you need the money,” Braxton said.

And don’t dig into your emergency savings fund, if you have one. Instead, start putting money aside each month into a separate account.

If you don’t plan properly, you could wind up charging it on a credit card, overspending and going into debt, Braxton warned.

4. Revisit your cash flow

You need to understand where you spent your money this past year in order to establish a budget for the following year, Boneparth said.

If you kept track throughout the year, great. If not, look back over the past 12 months to see exactly where your money went.

“Rather than wing it, there is real data that can be compiled and looked at to get control of your financial life,” he said.

5. Get ahead of your blown holiday budget

If you overspent this holiday season, take stock of just how big those bills will be come January.

“Realize how much you have blown your holiday budget so that when you are doing your 2020 planning, you have a figure to work with and can get ahead of it,” said Braxton.

6. Check your beneficiaries

While you are getting your financial life organized, don’t forget to check on who will receive your benefits after your death, said Boneparth.

That means looking at all your retirement plans and life insurance to make sure the beneficiaries are updated and correct.

7. Figure out how to boost your 401(k) contribution

Now is a good time to look ahead to your 2020 contributions to your 401(k), 403(b) or thrift savings plan.

The new year means a new maximum allowance. In 2020, you can contribute up to $19,500 into your account, up from $19,000 in 2019. Those ages 50 and older can also put in up to $6,5000 of additional catch-up contributions, up from $6,000 this year.

Asses your budget and see if there is room to put more aside into your retirement savings.

If you have one more paycheck coming this year, you can opt to put a chunk into your 401(k), if you can afford it and haven’t already reached the maximum contribution, Boneparth said.

“You can log into your system and contribute up to 50% to 100% of your last paycheck,” he said. “It will save on taxes as well, assuming those are pre-tax contributions.

“Just don’t forget to set it back before your first paycheck of 2020.”

The bottom line

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