Year-End Financial Planning Checklist: What to Discuss with Clients

Mike Simolo
Mike Simolo

10.04.23 in Wealth Planning & Investing

Estimated Reading Time: 2 Minutes (288 words)

An advisor reviews a year-end financial checklist with a client.

It’s difficult to believe, but the end of 2023 is almost here. Indeed, it’s been a year of change—from the passage of SECURE 2.0 in late December to increasingly high interest rates to the Supreme Court striking down the Biden administration’s proposed student loan forgiveness program. But one thing remains consistent: Clients need help planning their finances for the new year.

Of course, there’s a lot to consider, including retirement contributions and charitable giving. Our year-end financial planning checklist is designed to make your discussions as productive as possible and keep your clients moving toward their goals.

Workplace accounts. Encourage clients to consider maximizing contributions to their workplace plans to take full advantage of any employer match benefit. For 2023, the maximum employee deferral for 401(k), 403(b), and 457 accounts is $22,500, and individuals ages 50 and older can defer an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500. For SIMPLE IRAs, the deferral is now $15,500, and the catch-up is $3,500.


Traditional IRAs. Maxing out contributions to traditional IRAs is another option. For 2023, the contribution limit is $6,500—or 100 percent of earned income, whichever is less—plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution for clients ages 50 and older. Modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) limits for contributions to traditional and Roth IRAs increased in 2023, so be sure to review MAGI eligibility thresholds.

If permitted under an employer’s plan, an individual can carry over unused health flexible spending account (FSA) amounts up to a maximum of $610. Although the rollover option applies to the employer’s plan year rather than the calendar year, this year-end assessment is a good reminder to ensure that your clients are on track.


In addition, clients with dependent-care FSAs can save as much as $5,000 per family or $2,500 for individuals who are married but filing separately in 2023.

Now is also a great time to discuss maximum health savings account (HSA) contributions with clients who have high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Although this can be a fairly complex planning area, in general, here’s how HSA limits work: In 2023, the maximum contribution for an individual HSA is $3,850, and the maximum for a family HSA is $7,750.

Plus, clients ages 55 and older can contribute an additional $1,000. Don’t forget to discuss pro-rated versus “last-month-rule” contributions for clients who had an HDHP for part of 2023.

Clients on the threshold of a tax bracket may be able to put themselves in the lower one by deferring some income to 2024. Here are a few thresholds applicable in 2023 to keep in mind:

  • 37 percent marginal tax rate: Taxable incomes exceeding $578,125 (individual), $693,750 (married filing jointly), $578,100 (head of household), and $346,875 (married filing separately)

  • 20 percent capital gains tax rate: Taxable incomes exceeding $492,300 (individual), $553,850 (married filing jointly), $523,050 (head of household), and $276,900 (married filing separately)

  • Additional Medicare tax: For clients with W-2 or self-employed income above certain MAGI thresholdstotal Medicare taxes will be 2.35 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively

  • 3.8 percent surtax on investment income: The lesser of net investment income or the excess of MAGI greater than $200,000 (individual), $250,000 (married filing jointly), $200,000 (head of household), and $125,000 (married filing separately)


Year-end financial planning should include a review of capital gains and losses for your clients and an assessment of whether it’s time to rebalance client portfolios. This process may reveal tax-planning opportunities, such as harvesting losses to offset capital gains.

Charitable contributions donated directly to a qualified charity or donor-advised fund (DAF) may be eligible for a federal tax deduction. Keep in mind, however, that this strategy will only be beneficial if clients itemize deductions. So, it’s worthwhile for clients to meet with their tax professionals to discuss whether their charitable contributions and other deductions will exceed their standard deduction.


Deductions on DAF contributions are capped at 60 percent of AGI for cash and 30 percent of AGI for long-term appreciated securities.

Qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) remain an option. Clients ages 70½ and older can make a QCD of up to $100,000 directly to a charity; married joint filers may exclude up to $100,000 donated from each spouse’s IRA.

Further, a QCD can be beneficial from a tax perspective, as it reduces taxable income while also satisfying the RMD requirement. SECURE 2.0 expanded the allowable recipients of QCD distributions to charitable remainder trusts and charitable gift annuities, under which the client or the client’s spouse may retain an income interest, with the remainder payable to charity. QCDs to such “split-interest entities” are limited to a lifetime limit of $50,000.

Get our white paper for more on charitable giving options available to your clients.


Alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption limits increased in 2023 to $81,300 for single tax filers and $126,500 for married joint filers. Depending on AMT projections, clients may want to wait until January 2024 to exercise incentive stock options.

  • Estimated taxes: Clients who may be subject to an estimated tax penalty can request that employers adjust their withholding to cover shortfalls (via Form W-4). The IRS tax withholding estimator can be a valuable resource here. They could also explore using Form 1040-ES to make their estimated quarterly payments for income that’s not subject to withholding.

  • RMDs: A retiree’s first RMD must be completed by April 1 of the year after they turn 73 (up from 72 in 2022). Note that clients who reach age 72 in 2023 do not have to take an RMD for the year. After the first year of RMDs, clients must satisfy their annual RMD distribution by December 31 for each ensuing year. If a taxpayer chooses to delay the first RMD until April 1, they will need to take another RMD before year-end (i.e., essentially two RMDs in that first year if they delay).

As a result of the Supreme Court overturning the Biden administration’s proposed student debt cancellation plan, federal student loans resumed accruing interest on September 1, 2023, with payments resuming as of October 2023. Those payments are subject to a 12-month “on-ramp transition period,” during which default will be waived for nonpayment. The on-ramp period ends on September 30, 2024.


President Biden has launched a new income-driven student loan repayment program—the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan—which replaces the Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE) plan. The SAVE plan features expanded forgiveness provisions, particularly for those with smaller student loan balances.

To get the latest information, your clients can consult this helpful webpage and sign up for updates on the U.S. Department of Education site.

It’s always a good idea to review estate plans as part of year-end financial planning. Depending on a client’s net worth, establishing a defective grantor trust, spousal lifetime access trust, or irrevocable life insurance trust may be an effective strategy to reduce estate tax exposure.


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025. If this occurs, it will cut the federal estate tax exemption by approximately 50 percent and greatly expand the number of clients with actual or potential federal estate tax concerns. To avoid the loss of the currently available exemption, clients may need to execute documents and make sizeable asset transfers before December 31, 2025.

While you review a client’s estate plan, be sure to update beneficiary designations and review trustee appointments, power of attorney provisions, and health care directives.

Demonstrating Your Value

Year-end financial planning conversations will soon be in full swing. With this high-level checklist, you’ll be well prepared to discuss the issues and deadlines that are most relevant to your clients. Use it as a springboard to collaborate with their CPAs, attorneys, and other professionals or to begin laying the groundwork for those with more complicated issues to consider. Your clients will get a jumpstart on the year ahead, and you’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate your value as a trusted resource.

Of course, many clients will likely have more complicated issues to consider. Learn how having a team of experts at your fingertips could be a game-changer for your practice and your clients.

2023 Charitable Giving Cover


A Quick Guide to Charitable Giving Options

Help your clients find the best way to donate with this handy reference.

Commonwealth Financial Network® does not provide legal or tax advice. You should consult a legal or tax professional regarding your individual situation. Third-party links are provided to you as a courtesy and are for informational purposes only. We make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these websites.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2021, but we’ve updated it to bring you more relevant and timely information.

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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