For many of us, the focus in December is on holiday shopping and parties and family traditions. And while those rituals typically include tree decorating and hot chocolate sipping, you probably should add another to your year-end list: a financial review.
Now is the time to take a step back and assess your financial health, shore up accounts and make any last-minute changes. Here are seven items to consider for your year-end financial checklist.
Look where you’ve been
If you started the year with a budget and strategy to tackle debt and boost your savings, now is the time to take a look at how well you’ve done. How much debt did you pay off? How much bigger is your emergency fund? Are you closer to making a down payment on a new home or reaching your retirement goal? Take the time to sit down to really evaluate how well you did in the past year.
See where you need to go
Are you meeting or exceeding your financial goals? Then pat yourself on the back and keep it up. Even better, set even more ambitious goals for yourself for the new year. If you’re continuing to struggle, now is the time to switch up your practices, so that you’re in a better position to save and pay off debt in the new year. If you didn’t start the current year with a plan for better finances, map out your strategy now.
Consider your retirement fund
Many employers offer 401(k) plans for their employees and even match the amount their employees contribute to their own plans. In this scenario, employers essentially are paying you more money if you simply set aside part of your paycheck for your retirement through the plan. If your employer offers a match, make sure you’re maximizing your own contributions, so you’re ready for retirement -- and taking advantage of all the ways you can earn money. Not sure what your workplace offers? Ask your human resources department.
Spend any money in your FSA
Flexible Spending Accounts, also called FSAs, are tax-free accounts that can be used for health care costs, including copays, deductibles and some medications. If you set aside money in your FSA at the start of the year, now is the time to use it up. (And if you’re not sure if you have an FSA, check in with your HR department.) Wondering what expenses are eligible? Check HealthCare.gov.
Fund your kids’ college funds
If you have 529 College Savings Plans for your kids, you may enjoy some benefits on your state taxes for the contributions that you make to the funds this year. According to StudentLoanHero.com, 30 states and the District of Columbia provide a 529 tax deduction or credit. In other words, the more you sock away in the plan, the lower your state taxes will be.
Take a look at your tax withholding
Did you get married this year? Or divorced? Did your family grow? All these life changes mean it is time to take a look at your paycheck to ensure that the right amount of tax is being withheld. The Internal Revenue Service has a calculator to make it easy.
Check your credit report
Do you remember the last time you checked your credit? If you can’t, go do it now. It’s part of the work required to ensure you have good credit, which you’ll need if you want to buy a home or car, for instance, in the new year. Checking your score also could help you determine if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. And, lucky for you, it’s free to check. You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company. Just go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Having a year-end financial checklist takes time, of course. But doing the work now to check up on your financial health will ensure you’re on a better fiscal footing a year from now.
If you are experiencing financial difficulty and are looking for a solution, non-profit credit counseling can help you make sense of all your options. Contact us today for a free financial assessment with one of our certified credit counselors.
Consumer Education Services, Inc. empowers people to overcome their financial challenges and lead financially-healthy lives.
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