December often zooms by when you’re busy buying gifts, baking cookies, attending parties, and shovelling snow. It may be tempting to just enjoy the holiday season, but the last month of the year is also a good time to think about year-end financial planning.

Luckily, you have plenty of time between now and the end of the year to take any action that is required.

Here are 10 things to consider to start the new year in good financial shape.

Year-End Financial Planning Checklist

1. Schedule an appointment with your financial planner or advisor

The end of the year is a good time for a financial checkup. A financial planner can help your look ahead and prioritize your goals for the coming year. A year-end portfolio review can identify any areas that need attention and ensures your monthly savings is still in line with your future needs.

If you turned 71 this year give yourself plenty of time to switch your RRSP to a RRIF before December 31. You also have only until the end of December to make your final RRSP contribution.

2. Spousal RRSP contributions

If you are investing in a spousal RRSP, make the contribution in December as opposed to January or February to help get around the 3-year attribution rules.

Investing in a spousal RRSP in December 2018 means you might be able to take money out of the spousal RRSP in January 2021. Deferring the contribution by only one month to 2019 means that you must wait an extra year (January 2022) before you can withdraw the money to avoid attribution of income. A one-month difference in the contribution date can make a year’s difference in how the withdrawal is taxed.

Note that a contribution to a spousal plan in future years will extend the attribution dates. Attribution is based on the latest contribution to any spousal plan.

3. Contribute to a RESP

Unlike the RRSP deadline, which is 60 days after the end of the year, the RESP deadline is December 31.

If you have not maximized RESP contributions in past years, you can catch up one year at a time. There is no annual contribution limit for an RESP but there is a lifetime limit of $50,000 per child. On that basis, you could contribute $5,000 to the RESP and get $1,000 of the CESG if you are catching up from previous years. You could contribute more than $5,000 but you would not get more than the $1,000 CESG.

An RESP contribution would make a perfect Christmas gift this holiday season.

4. Make charitable donations

If you are planning on making charitable donations, make sure you make them before the end of December so that you can take the tax deduction on your 2018 tax return. Instead of donating cash, you might want to think about whether to donate appreciated securities. Not only will you get a receipt for the fair market value, but you pay no capital gains tax on that appreciation.

5. Use up FSA money

If you have a flexible spending account for health care at your workplace, see if you can order new glasses or schedule that dental work you’ve been putting off. Otherwise you’ll lose any unused funds once we ring in the new year.

6. Consider postponing ETF or mutual fund purchases

If you have a taxable investment account, consider putting off buying investments such as ETFs or mutual funds that make year-end taxable distributions. Why own an investment for one month and be dinged with a full years’ worth of taxable income?

And, since year-end distributions tend to lower the price, you could also consider making your RRSP and TFSA contributions early in January.

7. Make TFSA withdrawals

If you were planning on making a TFSA withdrawal in the next few months, consider making the withdrawal before the end the year. If you make the withdrawal in December, you could recontribute that amount as early as January 1, 2019. But if you waited until January to make the withdrawal, you won’t get the contribution room back until January 1, 2020.

8. Defer income and accelerate expenses

Income that arrives in 2018 is taxable in 2018, so in some instances, it might make sense to delay that income to delay the tax bill. This is a good strategy for a small business owner, but a lot of corporations can be flexible on this issue and they might be willing to pay a bonus on the first of the year.

However, if you will likely see a tax increase in 2019, you would be better off taking the income before December 31.

9. Stay current on tax breaks

Tax breaks can change from year to year so it’s important to stay current. For instance, the Working Income Tax Benefit is now the Canada Workers Benefit. The changes mean that if you are single and earn $15,000 or less in 2019 you may earn an extra $500 per year. In the past you had to check a box on your return to apply, but this is no longer the case. You will now be automatically enrolled.

Long gone are credits for children’s fitness and arts programs, textbooks, and public transit. If you factored in these credits on your TD1 make sure you update the form for next year.

10. Organize your medical receipts

One of the more time-consuming tax entries is your medical expenses. Rather than assembling dozens of individual receipts, ask for an annual printout that details both the total cost of your prescriptions and your own out-of-pocket expenses. Most pharmacies offer this service. The earlier you ask the better if your pharmacy is a busy one.

Don’t forget other regular health practitioners such as physiotherapists. They can give you a print-out, too.

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