Morgan Stanley
  • Wealth Management
  • Oct 2, 2020

Fall Planning for Your Finances

Know the moves to make before year-end to start 2021 on the right track.

With a global pandemic and an economic downturn, 2020 has brought considerable change, uncertainty and anxiety for many investors. But as fall arrives and we look ahead to brighter days, the changing of the season can be an ideal time to revisit your financial plans with a fresh perspective. Ask yourself: What goals do I still need to tackle this year? And which ones do I want to pursue in 2021?

For your finances, there are a number of moves you can make in the final months of 2020 to help set yourself up for a successful year-end and a better 2021.

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Revisit Your Asset Allocation

The end of the year is a good time to revisit your investment strategy and asset allocation to help ensure your portfolio is still apportioned among stocks, fixed income, cash and other asset classes in a way that fits your goals and risk tolerance. Given the recent market volatility, tactically repositioning your portfolio may help you take advantage of strength in certain asset classes and sectors. During periods of uneven market performance, active management strategies, where portfolio managers aim to identify potential outperformers and manage risk, may outperform passive investment strategies that track an index.

Since the stock market’s March 23 low, many investors have sought to participate in the rally by deploying cash after stock prices dip or gradually re-entering the market through a process known as dollar-cost averaging. 

Plan for Your Tax Return

Whether or not you live in a state with high taxes, consider how minimizing the impact of taxation on your portfolio can help you build and sustain your wealth over time. For example, a tax-aware asset location strategy, which accounts for differences in the way different types of accounts are taxed, may help increase after-tax returns. And, for taxable accounts, a strategy known as tax-loss harvesting can help minimize taxes owed from capital gains.

If you’re not doing so already, consider fully funding your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), since your contributions can be made on a pretax basis. In 2020, you can save up to $19,500 through your 401(k) plan, with up to $6,500 in additional contributions for those age 50 or older. In addition, for the 2020 tax year, you can save up to $6,000 in an individual retirement account (IRA), plus an additional $1,000 if you are age 50 or older.

Update Your Estate Plan

Investors may want to consider periodically updating their wills and other estate planning documents. Year-end can be a good time to review the changes the past year brought to your family, as well as your overall estate plan in order to ensure it still reflects your situation and objectives.

Those planning to give financial gifts to family members should keep in mind the annual gift tax exclusion limit of $15,000 for 2020 ($30,000 for couples) and look to make those gifts before year-end. Though the federal estate tax deduction rose to $11.58 million per person in 2020, individual states often have lower exemptions. Given that, you may want to share some of your estate with your family today to help them with their own finances. Ideas you might want to consider include setting up trusts and gifting to reduce your overall estate tax liability and providing for education expenses for family members through a 529 plan or direct gift to an institution.

Consider Investing With Impact

Year-end may also be a good time to examine how well your portfolio aligns with your personal values. For investors concerned about issues such as climate change, gender equality and access to education, investing in companies that lead in environmental, social and governance best practices can help them seek to generate positive financial returns while also driving positive change on the issues they care about. 

Plan Your Charitable and Holiday Giving

During the holidays, many feel the call to give back through charity. When making your gifting plans, you need to also decide whether you want to give cash, appreciated securities, or through a gift of your volunteer time.

Another option for giving back is a donor-advised fund, which provides potential tax advantages while helping you support your favorite causes. If you’re more serious about creating a more substantial structure and commitment, you might want to consider a family foundation in which you engage your family members in the philanthropy as well.

Before buying gifts for everyone on your list, consider first setting a budget for planned year-end spending, also keeping in mind any service providers and special people in your life you’d like to give holiday bonuses to.

Talk with your Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor to discuss your year-end plans for 2020.