The end of the year is hectic for most of us; we are juggling parties, holiday shopping, travel, and spending time with family and friends. The last thing we want to right now do is think about money. That's what New Year's resolutions are for, right?
While it's tempting to put off your finances until the New Year, you might miss some critical financial deadlines and face penalties or lose the opportunity to save extra money. An end-of-year financial checklist gives you the opportunity to make changes and save some serious dough before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.
Here is a year-end financial planning checklist. Use these last few weeks to get your finances organized and under control — a great way to close out 2014.
1. Look over your spending.
Ideally, you've been tracking your spending all year. What were your spending patterns? Did you go over or under in a certain category? Take a look at what you actually spent versus what you had budgeted for. Do you need to change your expectations? Review your financial goals from last year and consider whether they will work for you in the coming year and make the necessary adjustments.
If you paid off a loan, see if you can redirect that money into a paying off another debt or adding to a savings or retirement account. Don't let the money get eaten up by miscellaneous expenses.
If you don't have a budget, start one now. Mint.com, Level and Check are all good free budgeting tools with features to help you create a budget from scratch, track your spending and set financial goals.
2. Order your free credit report.
You're entitled to one free yearly credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you space the reports out, you can get one every four months. Get a report now so you know where you stand before heading into the new year. Look over your report and check for errors or negative information. If your credit history could use some improvement, make 2015 the year you get back on track.
3. Get your credit cards in check.
That means checking your balances, interest rates, and cash back or other rewards. Call for a rate reduction if you think you might be paying too much in interest. Make a large payment if you are carrying debt and have extra cash in the bank. If you can't pay down a chunk of the debt you accumulated this year, create a debt repayment plan that will get it down next year.
4. Make an extra mortgage payment.
Making just one extra mortgage payment each year can cut your loan down by years, saving you thousands in interest. Also, making an extra mortgage payment means you can claim an extra month of mortgage interest deductions in 2014. If you can't afford an extra payment, make January's payment before the first of the month. If the payment gets credited before Jan. 1, 2015, it will still be tax-break-eligible for 2014. You'll be covered for your January payment and you'll get an additional tax benefit.
5. Contribute to a retirement account.
If you haven't already, make a contribution to a 401(k), IRA or SEP IRA if you are self-employed. You can contribute up to $5,500 to a traditional or Roth IRA — $6,500 if you're 50 or older.
A 401(k) pre-tax contribution must be made through a payroll deduction, so talk to your payroll administer now before it's too late. Some people put off making IRA contributions until April's tax deadline, but you'll be missing out on up to six months of potential investment growth. Don't wait — just do it now.
6. Review your insurance plans.
Look over your health, life, homeowners, renters and car insurance plans. Do you need to adjust your coverage, premiums or add any dependents? Do you need to purchase new coverage, like life or disability?
Did you get married, have a baby or buy a house? Do you have any changes coming in 2015 that you need to plan for? Those life events all trigger insurance changes.
P.S.: If any of those are yeses, you might need to make changes to your W-2, too.
7. Automate everything.
It's time to finally automate your bills and savings. The more you can automate, the easier your finances will be in 2015. Automating helps you pay your bills on time and maintain a regular savings plan. This is also a good time to cancel any automatic subscriptions you aren't using: video and music streaming, magazines, premium subscriptions, etc.
8. Rebalance your portfolio.
Recent fluctuations in the stock market might have left you unbalanced. Take a minute to make sure you aren't too heavily weighted toward one asset class. This will help you remain on track to reach your retirement goals by rebalancing to match your target allocations.
If you have losses in any taxable account holdings, you might want to consider tax-loss harvesting to offset any gains or ordinary income. You can also consider tax-gain harvesting to reduce longer-term capital gains tax rates. If all this sounds overwhelming, talk to your retirement plan administrator or a certified financial planner for assistance.
9. Make a tax-deductible charitable contribution.
If are going to itemize deductions on your 2014 tax return, consider making a charitable contribution to a cause you believe in. The donation must be made to a qualifying organization and the tax benefit only saves you a fraction of what you donate, but you'll be supporting a good cause.
10. Drain your Flexible Savings Account.
If you have a Flexible Spending Account for health care or other qualifying expenses, now is the time to submit any outstanding claims. You can only carry over $500 from one year to the next, so get those claims in now. This is the perfect excuse to make those doctor appointments you've been putting off all year.
This article was contributed by Morgan Quinn of GOBankingRates.com, a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from strategies on saving money to getting out of debt.