The presents have been unwrapped; the tree will soon come down. We are now mere days away from the start of a new year – a clean slate, a fresh start, a … well, pick your own metaphor.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is major downtime for many people. The holiday parties are generally over, and you may have taken a couple extra days off work with little to do.
Of course, you want to enjoy those down days, but don’t squander all that free time either. In the video below, Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson explains some smart money moves you can get done, all in the course of watching your favorite shows on TV.
Now let’s review those tips and add a few more. Turn on the TV and when the first commercial break begins, you’ll start.
1. Change passwords
In between browsing online stores for after-Christmas sales, make a point to update all your 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 using one of the numerous free password manager programs available. Most will generate and store strong passwords for you. You only have to remember one. See our article A Simple Way to Make Hackers’ Lives Harder and Yours Easier, then read reviews and download solutions at CNET.
2. Request a free credit report
Another quick and easy money move is to get your free annual credit report. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies every year. Download one during a commercial break and review it for mistakes or suspicious activity.
Make sure you are requesting your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only website authorized under the law to provide 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. (See: “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.”)
3. Review your FSA balance
A rule enacted last year permits employers to let flexible spending account participants roll over up to $500 to the next year. From the Treasury Department’s press release:
For nearly 30 years, employees eligible for health FSAs have been subject to the use-or-lose rule, meaning that any account balances remaining unused at the end of the year are forfeited. An estimated 14 million families participate in health FSAs. Under current law, plan sponsors have the option of allowing employees a grace period permitting them to use amounts remaining unused at the end of a year to pay qualified FSA expenses incurred for up to 2½ months following year-end.
Today’s guidance permits employers to now allow employees to carry over up to $500 of the unused amounts left in their health FSAs for expenses in 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 they’re not participating in either option, use a commercial break to go shopping. Spend that money on qualified expenses by doing things like refilling prescriptions or maybe buying new glasses online.