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Timely Financial Planning
By Will Swarts

IF YOU'RE FORTUNATE ENOUGH to be wealthier this year than last, getting a jump on financial housekeeping now rather than waiting until year's end can reduce stress and save money.

Just as shoppers clog store aisles on Christmas Eve, investors often put off discussions about financial planning until the last minute . This tendency to procrastinate not only makes life miserable for accountants and financial planners but can also cost the newly minted mass-affluent — folks with between $100,000 and $3 million to invest — a pretty penny. Whether you've sold a business, made a killing in real estate, inherited money, won the lottery or found yourself earning a much higher salary, you'll benefit from a little extra time to tackle complex financial issues like tax planning, portfolio adjustments and charitable giving.

"We get clients calling in the second week of December saying, 'Hey, is there anything we should do before the end of the year?'" says Gregg Fisher, president and founder of the New York financial advisory firm Gerstein Fisher.

The short answer, of course, is yes. An annual reckoning well before the end of the year is a good time to take stock of where your stocks, bonds and other investments are and where you want them to go, says Bob Tilson, head of Tilson Financial Group in Wachung, N.J.

"You have to re-establish your main goals: Are you primarily concerned about paying for a child's college, planning to retire, buying a lake house?" he says. "An important step is to assess your risk tolerance, which could have changed over the year."

Jay Mastilak, a certified financial planner and senior vice president for PNC Investments in Pittsburgh, says even the shrewdest investors can be caught off guard, especially in a rapidly changing market like the one we're experiencing now.

"People tend to procrastinate when it comes to their finances," Mastilak says. "With the market hitting all-time highs, the portfolio you have today is not the same portfolio you had a year ago."

The Taxman Cometh
Tax issues are among the biggest concerns for the newly affluent. More money means a new tax bracket, and successful investments mean increased capital-gains liabilities. A little planning in November lessens the April 15 bite.

Tax-loss harvesting is the most important measure you can take, and is probably the most common recommendation financial planners make at this time of year. Simply put, by selling individual securities at a loss, you can offset some or even all of your tax liability for capital gains you've racked up in 2006. That limits recognition of short-term capital gains, which are normally taxed at higher federal income tax rates than long-term capital gains.

Gifts That Keep On Giving
Thinking about others' gains is also important. Charitable donations and bequests to family members are best figured well before Dec. 31, when holiday largesse is often limited to writing a check and failing to maximize the benefit of such a gift.

Much informaiton: http://www.smartmoney.com/beyond/index.cfm?story=20061103

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