7 Things to Put on Your Year-End Financial Checklist

Check Off the Items on This List and Start the New Year Right

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As tempting as it may be to take your foot off the pedal and just enjoy the holiday season, there are several items on this list that need attention prior to year-end. After all, you don't want to lose money, pay penalties, or incur any additional taxes unless you absolutely have to.

1. Sit Down for a 30-Minute Family Report Card

Something that I often suggest is to do a “30-minute family report card.” During this time, you can assess your current financial situation and review the past year. Did you meet your financial goals? Did you pay off the debts that you hoped to? Did you keep within your budget? Answer these questions thoroughly and honestly with your spouse and family. If there are some areas that need improving, commit to making those changes now. There’s no time like the present to get a grip on your finances. 

2. Get on a Debt Diet Today

You are probably thinking to yourself, “No way! I can’t worry about my debt in the midst of the holiday season!” But now is the best time to go on a debt diet. All that credit card debt makes your bottom line look bad and it’s hurting your financial health. It's time to start shedding it today.

3. Sell Positions for a Tax Loss

Are there any money-losing positions and/or investments in your portfolio? If so, you can consider selling them for a tax loss. Just remember that there are very specific wash sale rules. For example, if you sell a stock for a loss, you are not allowed to buy substantially identical stock or securities within 30 days. In order to stay within compliance, I suggest that you consult with your financial advisor.

4. Happy Retirees Spend 5 Hours or More on Financial Planning

The happiest retirees spend at least five hours per year (and usually more) planning for retirement. They’ve figured out the formula, which is unique for every individual, for how much money they need to have saved for retirement. Just remember that figuring out this formula takes planning, so be sure that you dedicate the time required so that you too are a happy retiree.

5. Contribute the Maximum Amount to Your 401(k)

Certain companies offer a matching 401(k) contribution plan. Basically, this is free money to you, so if possible, it's best to contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k). The threshold to qualify for your company’s matching contribution plan may differ from company to company, so it's always best to check with your Human Resources Department to see how much you need to contribute. Try to save at least the amount that your employer will match, otherwise you are leaving money on the table. 

6. Don't Forget to Take Your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)

Starting the year that you turn 70 1/2, the IRS requires that you withdraw at least a minimum amount from your retirement account annually. To determine what your minimum distribution is, try using this great calculator from Bankrate.

7. Use the Money in Your Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

A flexible spending account is a special tax-free account in which you can contribute money that will pay for services that your health care coverage doesn’t cover. Be sure to check with your benefits office to find out the deadline for using the money in this account so that it doesn't go unused.