10 Smart Year-End Money Moves You Can Make During Commercial Breaks

Photo (cc) by dicktay2000

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.

Two caveats:

  • 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.
  • Annuities.
  • 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.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
14 Things We Buy and Then Almost Never Use
14 Things We Buy and Then Almost Never Use

Save your money. These items seem alluring but they often end up as coat racks and dust magnets.

3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021
3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021

Still married to your cable company? Hold on to your wallet!

7 Ways to Save Money Without Trying
7 Ways to Save Money Without Trying

Saving money doesn’t always mean drudgery and sacrifice. These tools make it easy — sometimes even fun.

14 Service Providers Most Likely to Lower Your Bill If You Ask
14 Service Providers Most Likely to Lower Your Bill If You Ask

With these companies, it might be easier than you think to negotiate your monthly bill down.

How to Save Up to 70% on 7 Everyday Purchases
How to Save Up to 70% on 7 Everyday Purchases

Stop getting sucked into paying a premium when good alternatives are available at huge savings.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020
These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020

Consumer Reports says these home products got the worst ratings from experts.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?
Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?

Researchers say too many doctors are overlooking this potential source of hypertension.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

15 States With the Largest Homeless Populations
15 States With the Largest Homeless Populations

Some of the states with the highest rates of homelessness might surprise you.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked
11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked

Does your retirement budget account for all of these costs?

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.