Before the end of the year, you want to max out your retirement contributions, prepare a budget for the new year, use your FSA funds, check your tax withholding, make a plan to pay down your debt, and renew or enroll in a healthcare plan.
Most of us are knee-deep in the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, gift buying, and closing out work projects. However, there are a few very important financial items to address before the year comes to an official end.
Here are eight end-of-year money moves that should make their way to the top of your checklist. These will help you save some last-minute money this year and start 2022 off on the right foot.
1. Max Out Your Contributions
Now is the time to check your retirement account contributions from 2021 and ensure that you’ve maxed them all out (if possible). If you haven’t, be sure to send in any additional contributions before the end of the year.
The most important of these accounts is your 401(k). If you plan to max out your contribution for this tax-advantaged account, you have until December 31 to do so.
If you plan to also max out your traditional or Roth IRA, you have a bit more time. The IRS will allow you to contribute to these funds, up to the annual limit, until the tax deadline next spring. This means you can add 2021 funds through April 15, 2022.
Even if you don’t plan to hit your 401(k) contribution limit for the year, you should at least contribute enough to take full advantage of any match that your employer may offer. Failing to do so is simply leaving free money on the table.
2. Financial State of the Union
Your year-end financial checklist should definitely involve a status check with your family. This is the time to sit down and talk about how you did this year and how you’re doing right now.
Wrap up the conversation by focusing on what you hope to accomplish for the new year. You can also discuss new goals you want to set both personally and as a family, and how you’ll work to achieve them. This includes things like credit, credit score, capital gains, and capital loss.
In this discussion, you should cover things such as:
- Budget: What it was in 2021, whether your family held to it, methods of managing the budget (and if they worked), and what the budget should be for 2022.
- Savings rates: How much you hoped to save, how much you actually saved, and how that needs to change next year.
- Cutting costs: Whether your family is overpaying for certain expenses (like utilities or things like cell phones and cable) and how to trim those down.
- Debt: Where you were at the beginning of the year, what your goals were for stopping/paying off debt in 2021, whether those goals were met, and any new goals you’d like to set for 2022.
- Big-spending plans: Whether any large purchases are on the horizon and any changes you need to make to prepare (such as getting credit scores in order for a new mortgage or saving for a down payment.
Of course, each family’s situation is a bit different, but the idea is the same. This sit-down is not just helpful… it’s imperative.
When you take the time to discuss money with your spouse and older children, you ensure everyone is on the same page. You’re also more likely to make real changes when you have numbers in front of you, versus setting lofty goals that sound good but aren’t defined or actionable.
It’s easy to talk throughout the year about vague financial plans, like saving more money or buying a house. However, these goals can easily get lost in the everyday chaos.
By sitting down for an hour each December to discuss the state of your family finances, you can improve the odds of meeting your targets.
Take the time to calculate your spending, gather records from the last 12 months, and analyze your expenses. Then, roll up your collective sleeves and tackle your 2022 financial plans as a family.
3. Use FSA Funds
Did you know that your FSA (Flexible Spending Account) is a “use it or lose it” kind of thing? That’s right, if you don’t spend each year’s money on qualifying expenses, you lose it.
FSAs are tax-free accounts for things like dependent (child) care and medical expenses such as deductibles and medicine. You can contribute up to a certain limit each year through your paycheck (for 2021, this limit will be $2,750), using the funds to pay for eligible expenses with pre-tax dollars.
Employers can choose to offer their employees a rollover amount of up to $500 a year. If this is the case, you’ll be able to keep up to that limit in your FSA after year’s end without losing the money. You’ll still be able to contribute up to the maximum limit for next year, allowing your account to grow even more.
Other employers can offer a grace period of up to 2.5 months for their employees, allowing them a few extra weeks to spend that money on qualifying expenses.
Be sure to check which type of FSA you have, the balance in your account, and how much you have to spend in order to avoid losing your hard-earned cash. If you have a short period of time in which to use up that money, here are a few ideas to get you started.
You can also use this time to plan out your FSA contributions for next year. Did you run out of money in your account in 2021? Do you expect medical expenses next year that you didn’t have in years past? Were you stuck with extra savings that you had to scramble to spend before losing the funds?
If so, adjust your FSA contributions for next year accordingly.
4. Modify Your Tax Withholdings
While it can be nice to get a check each spring from the IRS, it’s not so nice to know that you also gave Uncle Sam an interest-free loan for the year. So, if you are getting a significant tax return each year, it’s time to adjust your withholdings.
Ideally, you would file your taxes each spring, either owing or being owed just a few dollars. This means your employer withheld the right amount of money from each paycheck. You wouldn’t be subject to penalties from the IRS, and the government wasn’t holding your money interest-free for the entire year.
You can do this by looking at tax rates for the next year, your expected income and credits, and any planned deductions.
Here’s a look at a great withholding-adjustment guide, as well as a link to the IRS’s withholding calculator.
Then, once you’ve changed your tax withholding and are keeping more of your own money throughout the year, put it to work for you. Invest that extra cash, use it to pay down debt, or build your savings.
You won’t get to enjoy that April direct deposit from the IRS, but you’ll also be making your money work for you all year long and that has the potential to be much more impactful.
5. Put Your Foot Down on Debt
Are you up to your eyeballs in student loan or credit card debt? This time of year is probably stressful for you, as it’s also likely the season in which you spend the most. Between gifts, travel, and your usual expenses, it’s easier to dig that debt hole even deeper than before.
Now is the perfect time to put your foot down on building debt and make a solid plan for digging your way out.
How to begin your efforts? Well, if you haven’t budgeted enough for the holidays, perhaps this is the year to spend a little less.
Related: Christmas Gift Ideas Under $15
No matter what, let this be the season that you don’t rack up credit card debt with gifts and travel. Make your year-end goal to put a stop to any new debt, and make a plan to get out of debt as quickly as possible, starting in January.
6. Enroll in a Healthcare Plan
If you haven’t already signed up for a healthcare plan for 2022, you only have a few days left to do so! This year’s deadline for open enrollment in the Healthcare Marketplace is December 15.
If you don’t sign up for a new plan that suits your family’s needs or re-enroll in your existing plan that you’re happy with, you could leave yourself in a bad situation.
7. Check In On Retirement Savings
We already talked about checking your retirement contributions and maxing them out before the end of the year. However, this is also a great time to look at the bigger picture.
Whether you have a financial planner or do your own retirement forecasting, the end of the year is the time to look at what you’ve accomplished thus far. How is your portfolio doing? Do you need to rebalance or is that automatic? Are you overpaying on advisor/advisory fees?
Analyze whether your retirement plans are the same. Has your income shifted or have your assets taken a surprising turn? Do you still plan to retire around the same age you’ve been planning thus far, and, if so, do you still think the same amount of money will be required to do so?
Using a retirement calculator (or your financial planner), revisit all of your goals and what you’re doing to reach them. Determine whether you are on track or if you need to ramp up your efforts in order to meet your targets. Then, adjust your savings and/or investments accordingly for 2022 and beyond.
8. Maximize Deductions
There are a few key deductions that you may want to take for the year, and this last stretch is the time to max them out.
These include things like giving to charity, selling investments for a loss, deferring end-of-year income, increasing business expenses, prepaying tuition, or even bunching up medical expenses.
These things won’t necessarily help your budget in December. However, they will decrease your taxable income for 2021, which will benefit you when it comes time to file your taxes in the spring.
A brand new year is a great time for all sorts of resolutions and new starts. By taking the time at the end of this year to get your finances in order–analyzing how you did in 2021 and making plans to do even better in 2022–you’ll ensure that 2022 is the financial best it can be.