Before the Holidays get in Full Swing, check out these tips from Consumer Reports on how to get your finances in shape.
Get Ready for Black Friday
Black Friday is still a few days away, but retailers are already advertising holiday sales. The best way to keep your holiday shopping in check is to make a budget and a list before making any purchases, advises the National Endowment for Financial Education, which offers financial advice and educational programs.
In addition to figuring out how much you can reasonably spend on family and friends, you’ll need to factor in some money for other holiday costs like decorations, cards, wrapping paper, and entertaining. Having that list on-hand when you hit the malls can help keep you from going over budget on gifts or buying additional items just because they’re on sale.
Take Your Required Minimum Distribution
If you have money in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a traditional 401(k) or IRA, and you’re over age 70 ½, taking a required minimum distribution before the end of the year should be on your financial to-do list. The amount that you must withdraw is based on the amount of money you have in such accounts and your life expectancy, according to the IRS. Note that you will also have to pay taxes on this income when you file in April.
Failing to take your required minimum distribution can be costly: You’ll owe the IRS a penalty that comes to half of the amount that should have been withdrawn. It’s a smart idea to get in touch with your financial adviser now to figure out how much money you need to withdraw.
If your money is in a Roth IRA, you won’t need to add this to your financial to-do list. Roth IRAs are not subject to minimum distributions. You are also not required to take a distribution from a 401(k) with an employer for which you currently work.
Visit Your Doctor
If you’ve still got money in a medical flexible-spending account at work, put this on your financial to-do list: Start spending it down. While many companies now offer a grace period into next year, you’ll forfeit any money you haven’t spent once that period expires. Take the opportunity to make doctor’s appointments that you’ve been putting off, or to schedule a flu shot if you haven’t had one yet. November is the slowest month of the year for doctors, according to Zocdoc, a website that helps you to find a doctor and make medical appointments online. So you should be able to get a convenient appointment with a reasonable wait time.
Note: If your money is in a health spending account (an HSA rather than an FSA), the unused balance will roll over to next year.
Not only is giving money to important causes in keeping with the spirit of the holidays, but doing so before year-end can give you an extra-write off at tax-time. Before sending in money, run a check of the organization via sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar, where you’ll find reviews from donors as well as data on how much of the contributions you make go directly to the cause. (For local or regional charities, check the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.) When you do give, be sure to save the receipt, so that you have it at tax time.
Buy Items on Deep Discount
Aside from the savings you’ll get on Black Friday, November is a great time to get a discount on televisions and on toys.
For more great information, visit Consumer Reports