2016-2017

7 Things to do Before 2017: Your Year-End Financial Checklist

With everything spinning around in your head, it’s easy to overlook these crucial year-end financial tasks. Skipping them can cost you and your family money – sometimes a lot of money. So sit down, take a look, and cross these off your financial to-do list today, before it’s too late.

  1. Spend every cent in your FSA (flexible spending account) – if you don’t use it, you lose it. Unlike the permanent Health Savings Account (HSA), this one is good for just one year, and any money left at the end gets forfeited (your employer gets it). So to make sure you get all the advantages of your FSA account, spend the money on things like
    • bandages
    • contact lenses and glasses
    • dental treatments (which unfortunately don’t include teeth whitening)
    • prescriptions
    • chiropractor visits
    • pregnancy tests
    • stop-smoking programs

    Also, check and see if your employer let’s you carry leftover FSA forward (up to $500) or take advantage of a “grace period” that lets you use the funds after the new year. An employer may offer one option or the other (never both), but doesn’t have to offer either.

  2. Max out retirement accounts to get a double benefit: Increase your savings and lower your taxes. For 2016, the maximum contribution for your 401(k) account is $18,000, and if you’re at least 50 that max jumps up to $24,000. There’s still time to bump up those contributions. And if you don’t have a 401(k) or similar plan through your job, you can plunk up to $5,500 into an IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older).
  3. If you’re retired, make sure to take your RMD – if you don’t, the penalties can sink your savings. Once you’ve hit age 70½, you have to take money out of your retirement accounts every year, in an amount known as the RMD, required minimum distribution. If you don’t, the IRS imposes a penalty of 50% of the amount you were supposed to take out.
  4. Re-evaluate your investments: Consider dumping losers to offset taxable gains. If you have some losing investments that you were thinking about selling, do it before the end of the year. That helps lower the tax hit from any gains you’ve enjoyed throughout the year. Don’t let taxes be the guiding factor for your decision, though, and only dump investments that don’t make sense for your portfolio anymore.
  5. Donate to charity for another double bonus: Do some good while decreasing your tax bill. If you itemize your deductions, donations are a feel-good way to lower your income taxes. Just remember to get a receipt for any contributions over $250 (cancelled checks count).
  6. Take a look at your beneficiaries – if things have changed during the year, make sure to update these crucial documents. A lot can happen during a year: births, marriages, divorces, and more. Those things can affect your desired beneficiary designations… though you may not have thought about that at the time. To make sure your assets go where you want them to, update beneficiaries on investment and bank accounts, and insurance policies if you’ve gone through any of these changes.
  7. Check your credit report – the holiday season is also prime identity theft season. With identity theft and credit card scams on the rise, it’s more important than ever to check your credit report regularly. Every year, you’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports from all three major reporting agencies. Get them all at once by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

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