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With every new year comes a fresh start and 2018 is just a few weeks away. While you’re thinking about making resolutions to improve your health, like losing weight or getting more exercise, don’t forget about your financial well-being.
Wondering how you might do that? It’s not as hard as you think. Here’s my month-by-month guide of the little things you can do that could pay off big:
Your Monthly Guide to Personal Finance
December: Create your goals and adjust your budget
The best way to create financial success in 2018 is to start now. First, figure out what your financial goals are for the year as that will be your “why” and will guide you on the right path. Next, it’s time to adjust your budget to reflect these priorities and to make any changes you know are coming, such as an increase or decrease in one of your expenses or income sources. This will set you up for a year of success.
January: Check your 401(k) account
Take advantage of pre-tax contribution limits. In 2018, individuals can contribute up to $18,000. Even better, if you are age 50 or older (or will reach the age of 50 before year end), you may be eligible to make an additional $6,000 “catch-up” contribution. There are many advantages to taking this step, including potential investment compounding and potential reductions in payroll tax—don’t let them pass you by.
February: File your tax forms early
By February, you should have all the documents you need to complete your 2017 taxes. So why wait until April? Complete your tax return and file now if you’re due to receive a refund. Even if you end up owing taxes, you’ll know where you stand and will be able to face the year on solid financial footing. Plus filing early will prevent scam artists from filing fraudulent returns under your name.
March: Update your beneficiaries
It’s important to decide who will get your 401(k) and other financial accounts in the event of your death. Check with your financial services providers—many now allow you to make your updates easily online. If your accounts require you to submit paperwork with original signatures, make sure you keep copies for your records.
April: Remember your IRA
Don’t neglect your IRA. You can make a 2017 IRA contribution until the April 2018 tax-filing deadline. Now is the time you must file your tax return unless you receive an extension. Keep in mind, even with an extension you will still be penalized for late payment of any tax that might be due for any necessary tax payments. If you’ve already filed and just made your IRA contribution, you can still amend your return.
May: Check your credit report
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can access your reports on file at the three main credit bureaus for free. See any mistakes? Contact both the credit reporting company and the company that provided the information. You should explain what you think is wrong and why, and include copies of documents that support your dispute. For more information, visit the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
June: Check your risk tolerance and asset allocation
It’s a good idea at least once a year to re-evaluate your risk tolerance and check that your asset allocation, across all your investments, is in line with what you want. A great way to check this is with Personal Capital’s Investment Checkup feature which will show you where your asset allocation stands now and how to rebalance it.
July: Prepare for the inevitable
Confirm that you and other loved ones have these key estate planning documents: a will, a revocable living trust, and power of attorney for both healthcare and financial matters. Beyond that, put together a binder of information to pass on to your loved ones in case of your death and update it once a year. Some refer to this as a “house book”.
August: Keep your back-to-school shopping in check
According to the National Retail Federation, the average family with children in grades K–12 spends more than $650 a year on back-to-school shopping—including clothes, electronics, and supplies. If your kids are into sports or other extracurricular activities, you’re probably spending a lot more! But you don’t have to buy everything at once. Instead, pick up a few items now and hold off on others until fall sales start.
September: Consider a 529 plan
September is widely recognized as College Savings Month, and with good reason! As kids head back to school, the topic of affording college tuition looms large for many parents. Why are 529 College Savings Plans so good? It mostly has to do with taxes. With 529s, you have to pay normal income tax on the money you put into your plan, but you don’t pay taxes on any investment earnings once they’re in the account, or when you take them out to pay for qualified college expenses. The 529 is also a very flexible tool, with low minimum contributions and high maximum contributions that can be redirected to other members of the family if the original beneficiary does not need all the money.
October: Check your 401(k)—again!
National Save for Retirement Week (typically the third week of the month) and your employer’s annual benefits enrollment period are both great times to revisit your 401(k) account to ensure your contribution amount and investments are in line with your savings goals. At the very least, be sure you’re contributing enough to get your employer’s full matching contribution (if available).
November: Prepare for the unexpected
It’s always a good idea to check in with your insurance company once a year. Failing to do so could mean you’re overpaying for coverage—or don’t have enough. And don’t limit your conversation to home and auto. For many families, life insurance makes good sense. Make sure your health insurance is reviewed and up to date as well. Disability insurance is an often-overlooked but very important component too.
December: Ditch the credit cards
Shopping for the holidays? Try paying cash for everything and avoiding the nasty credit card hangover in January—a sure way to get 2019 off to a wonderful beginning! And while you’re at it, start saving a little each month for the next holiday season.
Getting your financial house in order is always a good thing, but most of us don’t do it until we’re motivated by a life event like a marriage, birth, or divorce. Even if you can’t get to all twelve of these tips presented here, doing just a few can put you on the path to a more successful and satisfying year ahead!
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Are you ready to start 2018 with a bang? What actions are you planning to take to reach financial health?