September is here and it's time to get excited about football, getting back into the school-year routine with your kids and, of course, year-end financial planning.
For anyone who believes financial plans can wait until December, think again.
Financial advisors stress that it's time to get serious about financial strategy, like taxes, evaluating open enrollment options at work and reassessing your overall financial plan.
"Getting started in September is perfect," said Sheryl Garrett, founder of Garrett Planning Network. "Some of the more sophisticated or involved things to do require advanced planning to make sure all the pieces come together."
It's best to start early because one move can affect others, explained Lewis Altfest, chief investment officer of Altfest Personal Wealth Management.
"We're requesting clients' tax information now," said Altfest, speaking in late August.
While many conversations will focus on year-end tax issues, there can be a raft of specific, complex topics to be addressed. For example, anyone who is turning 70½ must devise the best strategy for taking a required minimum distribution from traditional IRA and 401(k) plans.
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Those planning to make charitable donations need time to select specific recipients and perhaps to decide whether to give cash or appreciated assets like stocks.
Additionally, some investors may be looking to convert traditional IRAs or a 401(k) into a Roth IRA plan. Still others may want to reverse a previous conversion through a recharacterization.
A recharacterization allows an investor to "undo" or "reverse" a rollover or conversion to a Roth IRA. An investor can generally recharacterize a rollover or conversion by Oct. 15 of the following year.
Advisors say this time of the year is when they speak with clients about making choices in their employer's open enrollment plans for health benefits and insurance. They also urge clients to find ways to maximize contributions in workplace retirement plans.
Also topping many advisors' fourth-quarter "to do" lists is urging clients to exhaust the funds in flexible spending accounts or other tax-advantage workplace health benefit plans.
"You have to use it or lose it by the end of the year," said Thomas Henske, partner in Lenox Advisors. "If you put in $2,000, you don't want to have $1,000 sitting there at the end of the year."
Using remaining funds in a flex spending account can be as quick and simple as getting new glasses or contact lenses or going for a medical checkup or a teeth cleaning. But if it's something complicated, like getting that bad knee repaired or having work done on your teeth, time is of the essence to get those medical issues handled before the end of the calendar year.
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"At the end of the year, no one is going for [elective] surgery," Henske said. "People are going on vacation and they're doing their family thing, starting with Thanksgiving."
Advisors obviously use this time of the year to concentrate on year-end tax planning with their clients and the conversion will focus on changes in tax laws. It can get complicated which is why advisors stress to their clients to address tax planning as early as possible.
For example, while the fiscal cliff was averted in January, there are still some complex issues to work through come tax time.