A financial check-up is as important as an annual physical with a doctor. Like a medical exam, a review of someone’s personal finances can identify steps to improve “financial fitness” and screen for potential problems.
Extension educators can help individuals and families conduct a financial check-up by reviewing the following seven financial planning topics:
- Tax Credits. Of particular importance in 2021 is the Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), which has income limits. Working families will receive the full expanded credit if they earn an adjusted gross income (AGI) for the 2021 tax year up to 75,000 (single tax filers), $112,500 (head of household), and $150,000 (married couples filing jointly). Another tax credit that is useful to project ahead is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is based on family size and household income.
- Tax Deductions. Most families will take the standard deduction, which is $12,550 (single tax filers), $18,800 (head of household), and $25,100 (married couples filing jointly) in 2021. Only about 10% of taxpayers itemize deductions, typically those with large unreimbursed medical expenses, mortgage interest, and/or charitable donations or victims of declared natural disasters.
- Tax Withholding. The IRS Tax Withholding Estimator tool, combined with a “best projection” for income, credits, and deductions, can identify an approximate withholding amount, and clients can adjust their income tax withholding accordingly with their employer.
- Budgeting and Cash Flow. Some families may need to adjust their income and expenses as COVID-19 restrictions change. For example, they may be spending more money on gas commuting to work instead of working from home. Budgeting apps or “paper and pencil worksheets” can help clients see where their money is going and reallocate dollars to high-priority spending categories.
- Progress Reviews, Catch-Ups, and Set Asides. Special considerations in 2021 include replenishing emergency funds and retirement savings plans from which cash withdrawals were made and setting aside money to repay arrearages on rent/mortgage and student loans as moratoriums. In addition, it is helpful to create a holiday savings/spending plan now for the December holidays.