You’re probably checking gift guides, but are you checking your money to-dos? Compiling your money must-dos doesn’t have to put a damper on your ugly-sweater party (besides, nothing can dull down the sparkle of those gold sequins). Creating your checklist simply means you can toast to the new year with complete peace of money mind. This year, give yourself an advantage by getting all your financial ducks (before they start quacking “Auld Lang Syne”) in a row.
If you bought a house
1. Read up on your upcoming tax breaks
Congratulations, you’re a homeowner! Now’s the time to organize your finances so you can reap some of the benefits come tax time. If it’s your first home, you may qualify for deductions you’ve never heard of before. If it’s an additional home, you may have to forfeit some of the breaks you reveled in the first time around. The IRS has a handy list of tax breaks for homeowners that you can check out here.
2. Make any energy-efficiency updates before January 1
Thinking of switching over to energy-saving appliances? Don’t wait until the new year! Any energy-efficiency updates to your home will be considered for tax benefits up until the end of the fiscal year. Though the total return is capped at $500 (and can be “redeemed” only once), it’s a decent chunk of change with (multiple) green-making results. Remember: If you wait until the ball drops in Times Square, you’ll have to wait another year to receive benefits!
3. Calculate your property taxes
Your property taxes are deductible but only for the amount of time during the year you actually owned the home. If you purchased halfway through the year, you’ll be able to claim only the portion of taxes for the time you were legally the homeowner. Additionally, if you’re paying a mortgage, the interest on the loan is also tax deductible.
If you sold a house
1. Tidy up your paperwork
Selling a house ain’t easy, is it? Now that you’re past the showings and listings, time to take a minute to celebrate by … organizing your paperwork! OK, not the most compelling pitch, but the payoff is worth the initial effort. Getting your paperwork filed, copied, and correctly stored will help you navigate the (sometimes) tricky financial terrain. Take time to weed out documents you no longer need (your “House Selling To-Do List, October” calendar, for example) and organize the ones you want to keep (any financial paperwork that deals with contracts or the exchange of money).
2. List and tally any moving costs
If you sold your house for the purpose of moving closer to a new place of employment, add up the small expenses (minus pizza and beer fuel) and double-check to see if you’re eligible to deduct moving costs. You have to meet a set of requirements to qualify, but as you probably know, moving isn’t cheap! Any advantage you can take will help bulk up your budget later in the year — which can mean future financial freedom and savings.
3. Itemize any items you donated during your move
Charitable-giving breaks apply to any charitable donations given to a registered nonprofit before the year’s end. If you made the trek to Goodwill or donated any of your appliances or belongings, you may be eligible for a tax deduction. If a few boxes are still sitting in your storage, pack ’em up, donate, and finish the to-do.
If you’re a renter
1. Double-check your subscriptions/renewals
Renters insurance is often discounted when you buy an annual package. The tail end of the year presents the perfect opportunity to check in with similar services and make sure you’re all set for the year ahead. Tip: Calendar alerts are a great tool to remind you well in advance of upcoming expirations!
2. Update your landlord on any issues
It’s inevitable — over time, even the tidiest, squeaky cleanest of rentals will run into some serious maintenance and/or surface-detail issues. Though an overflowing toilet warrants the call in the middle of the night, things like peeling paint or a cracked window don’t always inspire the same sense of urgency. Take the year-end as an opportunity to walk through and list out any wear and tear that should be tended to.
3. Negotiate your rent
This isn’t a done-deal discount on your rent! Repeat, negotiating your rent won’t always result in a price cut. However, if you’re on a month-to-month lease and know you want to stay settled for some time yet, take the new year as an opportunity to set up a time to touch base with your landlord. He or she may consider giving you a small discount for signing on for a longer contract.
Hungry for more to-dos?
1. Set a recurring “money date” on your calendar
One of the best ways to stay ahead of the game is to keep your head in the game. Set up a regular day/time to check in with your numbers and your financial goals.
2. Say “hey” to your emergency fund
Keep yourself protected from the unexpected by creating and maintaining a safety cushion for your bank account.
3. Consider automating your savings
Sometimes the most beneficial financial actions are the ones we don’t even notice. If you’re feeling financial fatigue from all that to-do-list checking, add just one more before dropping the pen: automation. Setting up automatic bill pay or savings transfers can keep your finances in order while also taking away some of the headache.
Now about that champagne toast….