By Ronn Yaish, MBA
I will be sharing five “money moves” to consider before the end of the year. This being the second part of this series, in this article I will share money moves six through 10.
#6. Flexible Spending Account—Use It or Lose It!
A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) may be offered by your employer as a benefit to set some money aside (2016 limit of $2,550) pre-tax in a special account to be used for paying health-related expenses. The employee benefits by paying less tax and has more money to spend.
So, for example, if John Smith was to earn $40,000 that year, in a 25 percent tax bracket, and decides to set aside $2,000 into a FSA, John would now only need to pay taxes on 38K (40K-2K) and would have more money to spend on health care; $2,000 instead of $1,500 if he would have been taxed on the 2K. ($2000 taxed at 25 percent =$1,500)
There is some risk involved in this account, in that you can lose your money if you don’t spend down all the funds set aside. To combat this concern, employers have been adding one of two provisions to alleviate the pressure. One option allows the employee to roll over $500 into next year’s account (without impacting next year’s contribution limits). The second option offers an extended deadline for 2 ½ months—until the middle of March, allowing the employee more time to spend the money in their Flexible Spending Account.
For some last-minute suggestions and a list of eligible expenses such as first aid kits or specific strength sunscreen, see YaishFinancial.com/MoneyMoves.
# 7. Sell losses to offset gains.
When an investor realizes he may have a big capital gain for a given year that will trigger a sizable tax bill, this investor may consider what is called harvesting tax losses. Meaning, if you also notice an investment that is doing poorly (below what you paid for it) and decide to sell it for the right reason, the investor can use the losses of the poorly performing investment to offset his capital gain liability.
Although at first glance it may be beneficial for an individual to utilize this approach, it’s not recommended to sell a stock just to use the loss as a tax break. It also goes without saying that it is recommended to seek the advice of a financial or tax professional to determine if this strategy makes sense for you and how you can benefit properly from exercising this strategy. For more information, see YaishFinancial.com/MoneyMoves.
# 8. Request a credit report.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. But there is such a thing as getting a free credit report once every 12 months. You can request a free report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Reviewing your credit report is a way of practicing good financial hygiene. I would recommend looking over these reports once a year. You can set an annual Google or Outlook calendar reminder to request a copy of your report.
You should be looking for errors, inconsistencies between the agencies and irregularities such as accounts you don’t know about or loans you never requested. In fact, there are some organized individuals who make a request from one agency every four months to spot any glaring issues more immediately!
# 9. Make a will.
I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest someone take the “do-it-yourself” approach when it comes to estate planning, but for someone who currently has a simple estate, a state-specific online service can generate a rudimentary plan that may be better than nothing. An AARP survey revealed that 40 percent of “Americans over the age of 45 don’t have a will.” This statistic is shocking and troubling. If you, your friends or loved ones don’t have a will, please get on their case! This type of friend or family pestering is what I consider selfless and is called positive nudging.
This document is too important to be overlooked or caught in the procrastination muck that can plague pre-retirement Americans. You don’t need a lawyer to at least temporarily prepare a will. You may choose to find an online will service, estate planning software, materials at a bookstore or library. Seeking legal advice is always recommended. Professionals get paid to know how to set up a will while considering the state’s requirements and your personal needs.
# 10. Review benefits you should be receiving from your employer.
Health insurance and pension plans are usually the services individuals associate with an HR office. But you may be surprised to learn that there can be other services and opportunities available to help you save money. For example, there is a health insurance company that offers a free Fitbit to their policyholders and provides incentives such as Amazon dollars for meeting daily step goals. Some companies offer neat perks such as free gym access, free local museum passes or discounts for products or services.
So when the HR office runs a benefits meeting, try to attend, get the handouts or follow up with someone from HR to learn about the company’s general benefit offerings—health, pension and disability insurance. It may also help to meet with a financial adviser beforehand to discuss ways to utilize your employee benefits to the maximum.
By Ronn Yaish, MBA
Ronn Yaish is wealth advisor and CEO of Yaish Financial Services, a New Jersey-based investment and wealth management firm. Ronn earned a master’s in education and an MBA in finance. He has been featured in Forbes, AOL Finance, Credit.com, GoBanking and US News and World Report. His goal is to educate and help clients “keep things simple” when managing their money.