Tax time is again quickly approaching, and with it comes procrastination regarding your financial matters. As you look toward the future, you may correctly conclude that you have months to get everything figured out. Before you know it, though, April 16 will be upon you, and you'll be scurrying to get everything done before deadlines make it impossible. While businesses like H&R Block
After finding yourself in that last-minute crunch, nothing feels better than signing that last form and getting everything in the mail. Once you catch up, though, you may conclude that it would be a lot easier to get things taken care of at your first opportunity, rather than your last one. Here's a guide to things you can start doing now in order to get a jump-start on 2007.
Now that 2007 is here, you can start making 2007 contributions to IRAs and retirement plans. Contribution dollar limits remain at $4,000 for both traditional and Roth IRAs, with an additional $1,000 available if you're 50 or older. If you haven't made a contribution for 2006 yet, you have until April 16 to do so.
The clock has also started on new-year contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan. 401(k) and 403(b) participants will find that their contribution limits have risen in 2007 to $15,500, with an extra $5,000 if you've reached age 50. For Simple IRAs, the limit has also gone up by $500, from $10,000 to $10,500. If you haven't already done so, you should talk to your payroll specialist to make sure that the amount you have withheld from your paycheck for your retirement plan contribution is consistent with your wishes.
If you want to save for the educational expenses of a child or other relative, January brings new opportunities to get started. You can make your 2007 annual contribution of as much as $2,000 to an education savings account. Also, if you haven't already made a contribution for 2006, then you can double up on your contributions all at once any time before April 16.
In addition, some 529 plans have overall contribution limits that increase over time with inflation. Contributions that exceed the annual gift tax exclusion of $12,000 may be subject to gift tax and require the filing of a gift tax return. However, special rules that apply to 529 plan contributions allow 529 plan owners to use five-year averaging rules with their gifts, effectively raising the gifting limit to $60,000 on a one-time basis. Married couples can give twice that amount without worrying about gift tax liability or filings.
As you're getting your tax information together for your 2006 return, think about whether your current tax-planning strategy will continue to work in 2007. If you anticipate a significant change in income, whether due to a raise or bonus or as a result of a reduction in hours or pay level, the odds are good that your current strategy won't lead to the best tax result.
Now's a good time to check your withholding and other payroll deductions. Ideally, you don't want to owe a lot of tax, but you don't want to give the government an interest-free loan for a year by having too large a refund. If you have a flexible spending account at work, but had trouble using all the money you set aside for potential medical needs, consider reducing the amount you have deposited into your flex account. It's always better to pay additional tax on money you keep than to avoid tax on money you lose.
Also, you can expect to see slight increases in standard deductions, personal exemptions, and tax bracket ranges in 2007. Although these amounts are readily available online, a conservative way to estimate your taxes is to use the 2006 figures. This method will almost always produce a higher tax liability than you will actually owe.
In evaluating your overall financial planning, changing the calendar can also mean a fresh start for your savings and spending plans. Setting financial goals both for the coming year and over longer periods of time is a great way to begin the year on the right foot.
The beginning of the year is also a good time to check things on the liability side of your balance sheet. For instance, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage and don't know when your interest rate will reset, now's your chance to predict when and by how much your payments may rise. If you spent a bit more than you'd hoped over the holidays, checking your options for low-rate credit cards may be the right move to help you minimize your finance charges.
Get some help
Does that list seem way too long for you to be able to get it all done? Is it too much for you to try to juggle all at once? If so, then you should take a look at the new issue of our personal finance newsletter, Motley Fool Green Light. Inside, you'll find a Get It Done calendar that will help you keep track of deadlines, tips, and bargains that could save you a lot of money. You'll also find helpful advice on managing holiday debt and making sure your retirement-plan money is working as hard as it can for you, and New Year's resolutions you can actually keep that will bring you a more prosperous and successful financial life.
With everything you can do to get your finances in order right now, why wait? By getting a head start on the things you'll want to do over the course of this year, you can put yourself in great financial shape for 2007 and beyond.
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