Holiday time might be the most wonderful time of the year … but it also can be the busiest. That’s why I’ve put together this short and sweet, end-of-year checklist to kickstart your financials for the new year!
Think ahead for the new year with these five financially-savvy ideas:
1. Give to charity.
Americans gave more than $300 billion to charities in 2019. And if you’re thinking about giving in December, you’re not alone. Nearly 30% of giving happens during the last month of the year, according to Network for Good. Before making a donation:
- Do your research: Make sure the charity you choose qualifies for tax-exempt status.
- Check your calendar: Remember you have until Dec. 31 to make contributions and claim them on your taxes. Contributions made via credit card in December and checks postmarked in December count even if the check is not cashed and the credit card bill is not paid until January.
- Keep the receipt: Get a written (mailed or electronic) receipt of your donation for your taxes.
- Ask the right questions: Check out the Consumer Reports list of the best and worst charities for more information.
2. Pull your free credit report.
Did you know each of the three big reporting companies – Equifax, Experience and TransUnion – will run a free credit report for you every 12 months? This is the best way to check for errors, determine your credit rating, and make a plan to improve your credit health. Here’s an easy way to get started:
- Create a rotation: Pick one company and order your credit report in December, then mark your calendar and be sure to order reports from the other two companies during the new year. It’s worth it since each credit bureau could have different information.
- Speak up: Dispute any errors you find as soon as possible in writing by contacting both the credit reporting company and the company that provided the information. Explain what is wrong and why and include copies of documents that support your dispute.
- Get the facts: Find template letters and information about the dispute process at The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
3. Look for unclaimed funds.
Believe it or not, your money could be sitting in a virtual lost and found. Most of the time it is a bank account that has become dormant, proceeds from an insurance policy, or even a tax refund. When a business can’t locate someone, the “mystery” money is sent to a state-run, unclaimed property office. Until the owner makes a claim, it just sits there. Find out whether you have unclaimed funds by going to the Government’s Unclaimed Money page where you’ll find multiple ways to search. This super easy tip only takes minutes but can provide a big return. Finding some extra cash can’t hurt, right?
4. Annual Gift Exclusion
Still feeling generous? In 2020, the IRS will allow you to give up to $15,000 (cash and assets) to someone besides your spouse. That’s a per person limit so if you have three kids and two grandkids, you can give $15,000 to each — although you should check on the limit, as it can change by year.
5. Spend down your Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA).
Now is the time to take advantage of those Flexible Spending Account (FSA) funds, if you’ve set money aside in your work account.
- Use it or lose it: Be sure to put those dollars to work by Dec. 31 if you have an FSA. They can go toward copayments, deductibles, prescription drugs, and even some over-the-counter medicine or supplies.
- Find out more: Ask your local pharmacist and drug store what should be covered under FSAs. For details about your company’s specific plan, including how to sign up, ask your employer.
These quick maintenance items can help you prepare for the end of the year (which always seems to sneak up on us, doesn’t it?) — and the sooner you get the list checked off, the sooner you can kick back for the holidays and gear up for the new year!
Emily Shallal is senior director on the Strategy and Innovation team at Ally. She is constantly seeking out ways to improve our customer’s financial savvy by understanding consumer trends and habits.