Year-End Tax & Financial Planning Strategies for 2021

As we wrap up 2021, it’s important to take a closer look at your tax and financial plans. This year likely brought challenges and disruptions that significantly impacted your personal and financial situation –– a continued global pandemic, several significant natural disasters, new tax laws, and political shifts. Now is the time to take a closer look at your current financial and tax strategies to make sure they are still meeting your needs, as well as take any last-minute steps that could save you money.

We’re here to help you take a fresh look at the health of your tax and financial well-being, so here’s an overview of some opportunities to consider as we approach year-end.

Key tax considerations from recent tax legislation

Many tax provisions were implemented under the American Rescue Plan Act that was enacted in March 2021. This act aimed to help individuals and businesses deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing economic disruption. Also, some tax provisions were passed late in December 2020 which will equally impact this upcoming filing season. Below is a summary of the highlights in recent tax law changes to help you plan.

Economic impact payments (EIPs)

The American Rescue Plan Act created a new round of EIPs that were sent to qualifying individuals. As with last year’s stimulus payments, the EIPs were set up as advance payments of a recovery rebate tax credit. If you qualified for EIPs, you should have received these payments already. However, if the IRS owes you more, this additional amount will be captured and claimed on your 2021 income tax return.

If you received an EIP as an advance payment, you should receive a letter from the IRS. Keep this for record-keeping purposes to help you determine any potential adjustment at tax time. Be sure to give this letter to your tax preparer.

Child tax credit

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, there were many important changes to the child tax credit, such as:

  • The amount has increased for certain taxpayers (from $2,000 per child to $3,000-$3,600 depending on the child’s age)
  • It is fully refundable (meaning that taxpayers will receive a refund of the credit even if they don’t owe the IRS any taxes)
  • It may be partially received in monthly payments (which should have started in July 2021)
  • Is applicable to children age 17 and younger in 2021

The IRS began paying half of the credit in advance monthly payments beginning in July. Some taxpayers chose to opt out of the advance payments, and some may have complexities that require additional analysis. We’ll be here to help you navigate any questions to make sure that you get the most benefit for your family.

Charitable contribution deductions

Individuals who do not itemize their deductions can take a deduction of up to $300 ($600 for joint filers). Such contributions must be made in cash and made to qualified organizations. Taxpayers who itemize can continue to deduct qualifying donations. In addition, taxpayers can claim a charitable deduction of up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2021 (up from 60%). There are many tax planning strategies in this area we can discuss with you, such as donating appreciated securities, which gets you a deduction for full fair market value while avoiding recognition of capital gain income on the securities donated.

Another one of those strategies, for those who are quite charitably inclined and regularly give $1,000 or more per year in cash donations to qualified charities, you may want to consider a donor-advised fund, especially if the total of all your other itemized deductions are close to or just around your standard deduction amount. Making a contribution to a donor-advised fund allows you to deduct your full contribution to the fund while making grants to various charities over any number of years in the future. Bunching these contributions into one year can make a big difference in your tax bill.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs)

RMDs are the minimum amount you must annually withdraw from your retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k), 403(b) or IRA) if you meet certain criteria. For 2021, you must take a distribution if you are age 72 by the end of the year (or age 70½ if you reached that age before Jan. 1, 2020). Planning ahead to determine the tax consequences of RMDs is important, especially for those who are in their first year of RMDs. If you’re currently a client, we have already addressed these for 2021.

Unemployment compensation

Another thing to note that’s different in 2021 is the treatment of unemployment compensation. There is no exclusion from income. The $10,200 income tax exclusion that a taxpayer may have received in 2020 is no longer available in 2021. We can help you plan for any potential impacts of this change.

State tax obligations related to teleworking arrangements

The pandemic has spawned changes in how people work, and more people are permanently working from home (i.e., teleworking). Such remote working arrangements could potentially have tax implications that should be considered by you and your employer.

Virtual currency/cryptocurrency

Virtual currency transactions are becoming more common. There are many different types of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The sale or exchange of virtual currencies, the use of such currencies to pay for goods or services, or holding such currencies as an investment, generally have tax impacts. We can help you understand those consequences, especially since most crypto brokers won’t be sending you a 1099 form for 2021.

Additional tax and retirement planning considerations

We recommend that you review your retirement situation at least annually. That includes making the most of tax-advantaged retirement saving options, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and company retirement plans. It’s also advisable to take advantage of health savings accounts (HSAs) that can help you reduce your taxes and save for your future. If you’re self-employed, setting up a self-employed retirement plan may have to happen before the calendar year turns to 2022. We can help you determine whether you’re on target to reach your retirement goals or help you set up a company (or solo) retirement plan.

Tax Loss Harvesting

With another good year for the markets, you may have realized and cashed in some significant capital gains in taxable accounts. To help offset these realized gains, engaging in capital loss harvesting, at year-end, involves selling taxable investments that are currently showing an unrealized loss, in order to “harvest” that loss to offset the gains. You can deduct total losses equal to your current net capital gain plus $3,000 to offset other ordinary income (e.g., salary, pensions, social security IRA distributions, etc.). Keep in mind that investments sold at a loss (or substantially similar ones) cannot be repurchased for at least 31 days or the tax “wash sale” rules apply to suspend the loss realized (and you can’t repurchase the same securities in your IRA or 401(k) either for at least 31 days).

Other Ideas

Here are a few more tax and financial planning items to discuss with us:

  • Let us (or your planner) know about any major changes in your life such as marriages or divorces, births or deaths in the family, job or employment changes, starting a business or significant expenditures (real estate purchases, college tuition payments, etc.).
  • Make sure you’re appropriately planning for estate and gift tax purposes. There is an annual exclusion for gifts ($15,000 per donee, $30,000 for married couples) to help save on potential future estate taxes and avoid the need to file gift tax returns.
  • Consider Section 529 college savings plans to help save for education; there can be federal and potentially state income tax benefits to do so, and we can help you with any questions.
  • Consider any updates needed to insurance policies or beneficiary designations.
  • Evaluate the tax consequences of converting part or all of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.
  • Review withholding and estimated tax payments and assess any liquidity needs.

Looming potential tax legislation

With potential tax changes looming as Congress debates proposals in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, there remains uncertainty in how this will impact taxpayers. As legislation continues to evolve, and if it passes, we’ll communicate to you how changes impact your tax and financial plan.

Some provisions are retroactive to January 1, 2021, and may have a material effect on the final 2021 (and future) tax years.

The most significant provision, which affects most clients, is the potential increase in the state and local tax itemized deduction, currently limited to $10,000 per year. If an increase to this limit is enacted (very likely), it will allow for at least a maximum of $20,000-$40,000 deduction for state and local taxes. For this reason, if you have any state or local income or property taxes that can be paid in either 2021 or 2022, please wait as long as possible to pay them, pending legislation passage and additional guidance that we will communicate soon after the passage of 2021 tax legislation.

Year-end planning equals fewer surprises

There are many other opportunities to discuss as year-end approaches. And, many times, there may be strategies such as deferral or acceleration of income, prepayment or deferral of expenses, etc., that can help you save taxes and strengthen your financial position.

Fraudulent activity remains a significant threat

Our firm takes data security seriously and we think you should as well. Fraudsters continue to refine their techniques and tax identity theft remains a significant concern. Beware if you:  

  • Receive a notice or letter from the IRS regarding a tax return, tax bill or income that doesn’t apply to you
  • Get an unsolicited email or another form of communication asking for your bank account number, other financial details or personal information
  • Receive a robocall insisting you must call back and settle your tax bill

Make sure you’re taking steps to keep your personal financial information safe. Let us know if you have questions or concerns about how to go about this.  

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any year-end financial or tax planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

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