September 04, 2020

A 2020 Year-End Planning Checklist

It’s been a year like no other. A global pandemic. A sudden shift to a bear market. Unexpected oil price drama. A race for a vaccine. Or better testing. Or a nationwide database to trace outbreaks.

Find it on

It all has an impact on your personal finances. As we head into the second half of the year, let’s take stock of what you may want to consider before year-end.


Do you remember what your short- and long-term goals were going into 2020? Remember we were coming off of a spectacular year in the stock market.

Sometimes you need to reassess your goals. This might be that year.

  • Are there new priorities that need addressing??
  • Are you adequately prepared for another market meltdown? If not, what steps should you be taking now?
  • Are you spending less this year? Can you re-direct that money toward paying down debt? Or should you consider larger charitable contributions this year?
    • The CARES Act allows you to deduct 100% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) if you give your gifts in cash (not to a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) or family-funded foundation).
    • You can still contribute to your Donor Advised Fund, but the old rules of deducting 60% of AGI for cash gifts and 30% for securities still apply.
    • If you give a combination of cash directly to charities and other securities to a DAF, you can carry forward any excess contributions over 100% of AGI for five years.

Net Worth

  • Do you have an adequate emergency fund in place?
  • Should you refinance your mortgage?
  • Should you consider setting up a reverse mortgage line of credit to use in case of more market meltdowns?

Credit Report

The bad guys aren’t taking a holiday.

  • Have you checked your credit report in the last year?
  • Should you freeze your credit?


Lots of people just refused to look at their accounts during the first half of the year. Try to be brave and ask yourself some questions.

  • What is your current asset allocation? (Your mix of stocks and bonds.)
  • What is your target asset allocation? Are you within the appropriate ranges for each asset class?
  • Should you change your target? Are you less comfortable taking risk going forward? Or do you want more risk?
  • If you have made changes to your investments during the year, do you know where you stand with realized capital gains and losses?
  • Would it help to take some losses before year-end?
  • Watch out for year-end mutual fund capital gains distributions.


It’s an election year. That could have a big impact on where tax rates go in the future.

  • If you think tax rates could go up in the future, should you consider a partial or full Roth IRA conversion?
  • Do you have a capital loss carry forward that you can use to reposition assets?
  • Did you roll a required minimum distribution (RMD) back into an IRA or retirement account? Remember to coordinate with your accountant on tax paid on the RMD. If you did return your RMD (plus associated taxes) to your IRA, you may have significantly lower AGI this year. And you may get a refund next April.
  • If you have stock options that will expire in the next few years, should you accelerate the exercise to this calendar year? Are there state tax issues that make this even more compelling?
  • Are there other “tax bracket planning” opportunities to take before year-end?

College Funding

Spring break extended a lot further than in most years.

  • Did you get a partial refund for tuition? If that money came from a 529 plan, you need to put it back in there. If you don’t, be prepared to pay penalties and tax on that non-qualified distribution. After all, that money didn’t go to pay for qualified education exp


2020 was an RMD holiday! The IRS decided mid-year that you can re-contribute any RMDs taken in this calendar year if you do it by August 31st. Not everyone will want to do that if they need that money to live on. But for anybody that doesn’t really need it, you can save a bundle on taxes if you put it back. (Put the tax portion back too. You may get a refund next April when taxes are due.)

Charitable planning is a little different this year.

  • You can still do Qualified Charitable Contributions (QCDs) from IRAs if you are over age 70 ½, up to $100,000.
  • But you may want to give cash to charities this year as you can deduct up to 100% of Adjusted Gross Income.
  • OR you still may want to give to your Donor Advised Fund where you can give appreciated securities and get a deduction up to 30% of AGI.
  • If cash flow is limited this year because of pandemic issues, you may want to use the money already in the DAF to make gifts. Or use your IRA to make QCDs.

We had a rapid drop in the stock market in March followed by a rapid recovery in subsequent months. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

  • Are you still comfortable with your spending plan in retirement? It may be that you’re already spending less because most people are still not travelling or eating out the way they used to.
  • Do you think your retirement date is still on track? Has anything changed that could affect that?
  • If you have been affected by layoffs this year, should you adjust what you’re saving in a retirement plan to free up cash flow?
  • Has your company match on your retirement plan been affected?


2020 has been a year of devastating loss of life. And this pandemic is not over.

  • Is your estate plan up-to-date?
  • Have you shared essential documents with the people you’ve asked to help with your estate?
  • Are your trusts funded?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up-to-date?
  • Do you want to do any charitable giving before year-end?
  • Do you want to do any annual exclusion giving before year-end? You can give up to $15,000 to as many people as you’d like.

I’ll admit, that’s one heck of a checklist. Life has been hard enough this year without adding more pressure now. But if you find one or two things that stand out for you, try to get those done. And don’t forget your financial advisors are here, ready to help. We’re in this together.

The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

By clicking on any of the links above, you acknowledge that they are solely for your convenience, and do not necessarily imply any affiliations, sponsorships, endorsements or representations whatsoever by us regarding third-party websites. We are not responsible for the content, availability or privacy policies of these sites, and shall not be responsible or liable for any information, opinions, advice, products or services available on or through them.

The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of Buckingham Strategic Wealth®. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

Copyright ©2020 Stevens Visionary Strategies LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the owner except as expressly permitted by U.S. copyright law.