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. As the end of the year approaches, here are seven financial tasks to add to your to-do list.
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.
For example, 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.
Consider scheduling monthly family check-ins for your finances. Go over your budget, spending and goals to make sure you're all on the same page.
2. Get on a Debt Diet Today
Collectively, Americans owe a cool $14.15 trillion in debt . If you household has credit cards, a mortgage, student loans or other debts, it's time to get serious about paying them off.
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.
Consider what kind of approach is best for tackling debt. For example, you could try the debt snowball or the debt avalanche. Review your budget to determine how much money you can apply to debt each month, above the minimum payments. Then, set a deadline for paying off your debts one by one.
Consider refinancing or consolidating high-interest debt, or transferring credit card balances to a card with a 0% APR. By reducing the amount of interest you pay, you can chip away at your debt totals faster.
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. This is called the wash-sale rule and if you violate it, the IRS can penalize you by removing any tax break you enjoyed from harvesting losses.
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.
If you don't have a financial advisor yet, consider finding you can trust to offer good advice. Some of the key questions to ask when choosing a financial advisor center on how they like to communicate, the types of services they offer, the typical kind of clients they work with and their overall investment strategy.
Be sure to understand the difference between a fee-only and fee-based advisor. Fee-only advisors base fees on their services while fee-based advisors can earn commissions from selling certain investment products.
5. Contribute the Maximum Amount to Your 401(k)
Your company may offer a matching 401(k) contribution as part of your employee benefits package. 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.
Consider increasing contributions incrementally each year. If you get a regular pay raise, you won't even miss the extra money from your paychecks.
6. Don't Forget to Take Your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)
Starting the year that you turn 72 , the IRS requires that you withdraw at least a minimum amount from your traditional individual retirement account annually. If you fail to withdraw the required amount by the withdrawal deadline each year, you could face a steep tax penalty.
So as you plan your retirement budget, consider where RMDs fit in and how much money you'll need to withdraw to avoid a penalty. Remember, you may be able to avoid taking RMDs from a 401(k) plan if you're still working for the employer that owns the plan.
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.
Also, consider the benefits of saving money in a Health Savings Account (HSA) instead if you have a high deductible health insurance plan. An HSA offers triple tax benefits in the form of tax-deductible contributions, tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when you use the money to pay for qualified medical expenses. And compared to an FSA, you don't have to spend the money in your HSA down each year, meaning you can allow it to grow over time until you need it.