December is a great time to take a few minutes to review your finances, and see whether your situation has changed in the last year. Over the last twelve months, did you change jobs or retire? Did you get married or start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2024 begins.
Your to-do list should include taking stock of your budget, investments, retirement funds, and credit report. Here are some things you might consider before saying goodbye to 2023.
Adjust your budget
We'd all like to save more and spend less. Before the New Year starts, understand where you are financially by tracking your spending. Look at the monthly numbers of your expenses and income. Be on the lookout for opportunities to save more or accelerate your debt pay-off. The cost of living increases every year, so you may need to reduce your spending if your income hasn't kept pace with inflation. You should also reduce your expenses if you are saving toward a particular goal, such as a down payment for a mortgage, a new car, getting out of debt, or starting your own business.
Assess your investment accounts
Before making any investment decision, one of the key elements you face is working out the real rate of return on your investment. Match yourself with a vetted, fiduciary financial advisor. An experienced advisor can help review your investment accounts to ensure you have the right balance of stocks, bonds, and cash.
Look at your retirement and non-retirement returns for the year, in all of your accounts. Decide whether or not you need to make changes to your investment strategy. Make sure your portfolio aligns with your financial goals and risk tolerance.
Evaluate your retirement contributions
Many Americans realize the importance of saving for retirement, but knowing exactly how much you need to save is another issue altogether. With all the information available about retirement, it is sometimes difficult to decipher what is appropriate for your specific situation.
• Retirement age
• Life expectancy
• Future healthcare needs
• Retirement lifestyle
• Social Security
After considering all of the above factors, you should have a much better idea of how much you need to save for retirement.
Look at your charitable contributions
Are you thinking of gifting? If giving to your favorite charity, church, or other non-profit is important to you, consider setting up autopay for your donations. You can set up autopay on your credit card (and earn rewards!) or set up automatic payments from your checking or savings account. You can rest easy knowing you're helping causes you believe in on a regular basis, without adding something else that you have to remember to do. Be sure to keep a record of your donations for tax-purposes.
Review your health care costs
By December, you've probably met your health insurance deductible, so it's a good time to consider routine care and elective procedures that may cost more once January arrives.
December is also a smart time to get up-to-date on immunizations, book a skin check with your dermatologist, or finally schedule that needed colonoscopy. A Zocdoc study found that December is typically the slowest month for many practices, meaning appointments might be easier to come by.
If you have a health care flexible spending account (FSA) through your employer, check your balance. If your funds won't rollover, be sure to use them up before the end of the year.
You may also want to look into a health savings account (HSA). It may save you money through lower premiums, tax savings, and money deposited in your account which can be used to pay your deductible and other out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Unlike most FSAs, any money left in your HSA account will continue to roll over year after year. However, it may make sense to make a contribution before year-end. Keep in mind that the annual limit you can contribute to the HSA may not exceed the maximum contribution amount set by the IRS, plus "catch up" contributions for those ages 55 to 65.
Check your credit report
When was the last time you checked your credit report for accuracy? Or to obtain your credit score? What does your credit report mean to those who lend you money and credit? In your financial life, your credit report impacts who will lend you money or extend credit, and it can also affect your career, education, and interest rates. Simply put, your credit report should make you as financially attractive as possible.
Your credit report can be one of the most important documents for protecting you against identity theft. When you review your report, you can see your payment history and understand how your credit is rated, plus prevent any errors from going undetected. Items the credit reporting agencies chronicle for creditors to review include: personal identification information, borrowing history, public records, and credit inquiries from other parties (applications to creditors).
Order your free report at annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. Check your credit reports before the start of a new year, to prevent unpleasant surprises and correct any mistakes.
Build up your emergency fund
If you have any cash set aside, building a financial safety net is a fundamental tool in financial planning. Automate the process by using direct deposit to a savings account or move funds manually each month. Experts widely agree that people should aim for at least a 3-6 month liquid emergency fund to cover unexpected events—like a job loss, emergency home repairs, medical bills, etc.
Assuming you already have 3-6 months of emergency funds banked for yourself and your monthly expenses, next you may want to consider a family emergency fund.
We all experience unexpected expenses at one time or another; emergency funds are a safety cushion that either eliminate completely or minimize debt accrual.