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.
4. Complete an investment review
Sound time-consuming? Not really. You can do an investment review 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 looking over and understanding your investments may seem boring, it’s exciting compared with the commercials you’ll be missing.
5. Sell losses to offset gains
While you have your investments in front of you, look for losers 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.
If you don’t have gains, losses can also be used against up to $3,000 of your regular income. Net losses exceeding $3,000 will be carried over to future years.
- Losses in tax-advantaged retirement accounts, like an IRA or 401(k), aren’t deductible.
- You can’t 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.
Confused? Check out “Sales and Trades of Investment Property” from the IRS. Warning: As with all IRS publications, it’s going to take more than one commercial break to understand.
6. Scan and shred paperwork
Have a teen in the house? Let them scan in the mess of paperwork you’ve been hoarding all year and then shred the originals (unless they’re the kind of documents you need to keep). If that doesn’t sound like fun to them, you could always pay a few bucks or tell them it’s a belated Christmas gift to make up for the one they forgot to buy you.
For those of you who are childless, never fear. This is a rather mindless year-end task that can be easily accomplished during an “It’s A Wonderful Life” marathon. For more, see Don’t Store Your Tax Return — Toss It Out
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 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, you can always have your Internet will reviewed by an estate attorney later. But even a cheap Internet will you prepare during a commercial break is better than none. Also, check out Ask Stacy: Can I Write My Own Will?
8. Create a budget
You might think creating a budget will take all day. Maybe in the past, but no longer. All you need these days is use of a free service like that offered by our partner PowerWallet.
When you use a site or app like Mint or PowerWallet, 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 worksheets.
9. Update beneficiaries
The end of the year is a good time to review your 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 the beneficiaries on accounts such as:
- Life insurance.
- Bank accounts.
- Retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401(k)s.
10. Purge the excess and get a tax deduction, too
Last but not least, we come to a fun one – or at least I think it’s fun. At the next commercial break, grab a bag and hurry through the room picking up everything you no longer love. I’m talking old knickknacks, excess blankets and outgrown toys, among other things. When you are folding laundry, set aside everything that is too small, too big or too out-of-style for you.
Load it all up in the car, and the next time you’re out, drop it off at the local thrift store, mission or Goodwill shop. Ask for a receipt and not only start 2015 with a less-cluttered house but also with a nice deduction for your taxes.
Make the most of the last week of 2014 by making these 10 easy money moves. They don’t take much time and once done, you’ll be one step closer to starting 2015 with a clean financial slate.