The calendar has reached the final month of the year, giving you just days to make some year-end financial moves. These strategies can help lower the risk of identity theft and give you a better picture of your financial health.
None of them should take long — you can probably knock them out during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV shows.
1. Change passwords
Update all passwords for next year, especially those for bank, credit card and other sensitive accounts.
You could use a notebook and pen to record your new passwords, but a much better idea is a password manager. Most will generate and store strong passwords for you. Then, you only have to remember one.
We explain password managers in detail and offer a free option and a paid option in “The Best Way to Remember and Protect All Your Passwords.”
2. Request a free credit report
Federal law entitles you to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Download one during a commercial break, and review it for mistakes or suspicious activity.
Make sure you request reports via AnnualCreditReport.com, the official website for free credit reports. Other websites might send you reports, but there’s usually a catch.
For example, the site might automatically enroll you in a credit-monitoring service or some other subscription program. While you’re at it, check out our Solutions Center for help with credit card debt.
3. Review your FSA balance
A rule enacted a few years ago permits employers to let flexible spending account participants roll over up to $500 into the next year.
Note, however, that employers aren’t required to offer a grace period or a rollover. So, now’s the time to find out your employer’s policy.
If the employer does not participate in either option, use the few minutes of a TV commercial break to go shopping. Spend that money on qualified expenses by doing things like refilling prescriptions or maybe buying new glasses.
4. Complete an investment review
Does an investment review sound time-consuming? It’s not, really. You can do one in 15 minutes or less with these steps. In a nutshell, you want to check your investment performance, review your fees and reallocate balances if needed.
While examining and understanding your investments might seem boring, it’s exciting compared with the commercials you’ll be missing.
5. Sell losses to offset gains
Look for losers among your investments and consider unloading them. Selling a stock or other security at a loss can offset investment gains you’ve taken during the year, thus lowering your tax bill.
There are a couple of caveats. For starters, losses in tax-advantaged retirement accounts — like an IRA or 401(k) — aren’t deductible.
You also cannot game the system by selling a stock at a loss, then buying it back a few minutes or days later. For an investment loss to be deductible, you can’t purchase a substantially identical security within 30 days before or after a sale.
6. Scan and shred paperwork
Have a teen in the house? Let him or her scan the mess of paperwork you’ve been hoarding all year onto the computer and then shred the originals. If that doesn’t sound like fun to your kid, you can always pay him or her a few bucks.
For those of you who are childless, never fear. This is a rather mindless year-end task that can be easily accomplished during your annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
7. Make a will
This may not seem like a quick-and-easy money move, but if you have a simple estate, there’s no reason to make things complicated. Search online for “will template” and your home state, and you’ll find all sorts of fill-in-the-blank wills that can be downloaded free. If you don’t have a will, these will do for now.
If that doesn’t sound like an adequate long-term solution, have your will reviewed by an estate attorney later. But even a cheap internet will that you prepare during a commercial break is better than none.
8. Create a budget
Creating a budget is easy today. All you need is the use of a free service such as that offered by our partner You Need a Budget (YNAB).
When you use a site or app like Mint or You Need a Budget, you give it your bank account information and create expense categories. Then, your goals and spending are automatically tracked and updated. You can get started during a commercial break.
If you want to stick to the old-fashioned method of budgeting with paper and pencil, no worries. Just check out our free budgeting spreadsheets.
9. Update beneficiaries
The end of the year is a good time to review your designated beneficiaries and update them as needed. Did you get married? Divorced? Have kids? Have a falling out?
Make sure you have the right people listed as your beneficiaries on accounts such as:
- Life insurance
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401(k)s