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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Dear Readers: With time rushing by and the end of 2015 in sight, you may be lamenting that you haven’t accomplished all that you had planned. But even if you’ll have to put off certain things until 2016, you still have time this year to make some smart financial moves.

To help you finish out 2015 with a flourish, here’s my list of top 10 year-end financial to dos.

— Max out retirement contributions: Make sure you’re on target for retirement — and save on taxes, too — by contributing the maximum to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, whether you have an IRA, a 401(k) or both. For 2015, you can contribute $5,500 to a traditional IRA, plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you’re 50 or older. Hopefully, you’re already contributing enough to your 401(k) to capture any company match; if you can do more, you can contribute up to $18,000, plus a $6,000 catch-up for those ages 50 and up. Even if you have a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) with no upfront tax deduction, max out your contributions. It’s a yearly opportunity you don’t want to give up.

— Take advantage of an HSA: If you have a health savings account tied to your high-deductible health insurance plan, now’s the time to max it out. An HSA lets you make tax-deductible contributions that you can later withdraw, tax-free, for qualified medical expenses. HSA contribution limits for 2015 are $3,350 for singles and $6,650 for a family, with a $1,000 catch-up for age 55 and up. And if you’re lucky enough not to need the money immediately, you can save it for future use.

— Harvest capital losses to balance gains: As you consider your year-end portfolio rebalancing, see if it makes sense to take some capital losses to cancel out capital gains. Not only will it save you money on capital gains taxes, it will give you the chance to clear out some of the losers, reset your asset allocation, and reinvest in areas that you think may have more potential for gain.

— Prepay where possible: If you have the means, prepaying things such as property taxes, medical bills or estimated state taxes can give you added deductions to further reduce your taxable income.

— Use, don’t lose, the money in your Flexible Savings Account: Unlike an HSA, with an FSA you generally have to use the money you put into it during the calendar year or lose it. While new rules allow an employer to let you carry over $500 or give you an extra two and a half months to use the funds, it’s not required. Either way, now’s the time to check the balance in your FSA and put those funds to work.

— Take your required minimum distribution: This won’t save you on taxes, but it will save you a hefty penalty. You must take RMDs from traditional IRA and 401(k) by Dec. 31. The only exception is your very first RMD, which you can delay until April 1of the year following the year you turn 70. This isn’t to be treated lightly. Miss the deadline and the penalty is 50 percent of the amount that should have been withdrawn.

— Get a jump on tuition: Will you be facing a big college tuition bill this spring? If you can pay it before the end of the year, you might be able to ease the pain a bit with up to a $4,000 tax deduction. There are income limits ($80,000 for single filers/$160,000 for married filing jointly; not available if married filing separately), but if it works for you, it’s worth considering.

— Give your health insurance a checkup: Make sure you have the most complete and cost-effective coverage available. Open enrollment for 2016 coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace is from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016, so now’s the time to do some comparison-shopping.

— Make tax-free gifts: If you can afford to be generous, Uncle Sam makes it even easier to give gifts to special people on your list. In 2015, you can give up to $14,000 each to any number of individuals with no gift tax or reporting requirements. And there’s no tax for the recipient.

— Be charitable: Giving to charity not only feels good, it has tax advantages as well. Consider opening a Charitable Gift Account (also called a donor advised fund) and get an upfront tax deduction for your charitable contribution. If you fund your account with appreciated stock, you’ll get the added advantage of avoiding capital gains taxes while getting a tax deduction for the full market value of the donated stock.

Get these to dos out of the way now and you’ll have that much more time to enjoy the rest of the year. There’s no time like the present!

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Certified Financial Planner, is board chairwoman and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty.” Read more at http://schwab.com/book. You can email Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. For more updates, follow Carrie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@CarrieSchwab). This column is no substitute for individualized tax, legal or investment advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax adviser, CPA, financial planner or investment manager. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2015 CHARLES SCHWAB & CO. INC., MEMBER SIPC. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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