The end of the year is a good time to wrap up financial loose ends and set priorities for the year ahead.
Here’s a checklist of timely financial to-dos.
Get Budget Savvy
Over three-fifths of Americans identify staying within budget as a “take charge priority” in a recent Lincoln Financial Group Measuring Optimism, Outlook and Direction (M.O.O.D.) of America study. An online tracking tool tied to your bank account is an easy way to monitor spending habits and identify where to make necessary tweaks to redirect money toward important financial goals. Many financial institutions offer these for free.
Boost Retirement Savings
For 59 percent of Americans, saving for retirement is a financial priority, according to the same Lincoln study. Take their cue. You can lower your tax burden by increasing your retirement plan contribution, since deposits are made pre-tax.
Unfortunately, you can’t just write a check to your 401(k) if you want to contribute more. The money must come out of your paycheck, and you must ask your human resources department at work to increase your withholding. Some companies even allow you to allocate a portion of your year-end bonus to your 401(k) pre-tax.
Empty Flexible Spending
A flexible spending account (FSA) is a great tool for saving on healthcare. You decide during open enrollment how much you’d like to have taken out for healthcare-related expenses throughout the year, and the money is deposited in the account pre-tax.
But there’s a catch: You must spend it all before year-end or lose it, although some companies allow you to carry over up to $500 into the next year. If there’s still money in your FSA, push up scheduled healthcare purchases, like new eyeglasses or planned dental work, into the current year.
Rebalancing is a necessary but often overlooked portfolio task. Financial advisors recommend reviewing your portfolio at least once annually to decide whether rebalancing is warranted, typically if your positions have strayed five to 10 percent from where you originally set them.
For example, if you allocated 60 percent of your portfolio to stocks, but it has now moved to a 70 percent allocation due to strong market performance, it might be time to rebalance. Rebalancing helps you restore your allocation back to your intended risk profile.
The holidays are a good time to remember the causes you care about. In fact, you’ll be in good company, as December is the most popular month for charitable giving, with 18 percent of annual donations happening this month alone. If you itemize your deductions, you can take a deduction against donations to 501(c)(3) organizations. Your donations can take many forms: cash, appreciated stocks, or even the cost of ingredients for a big pot of chili for a homeless shelter.
More financial tips can be found at www.lincolnfinancial.com/holidays.