If you’re anything like us, it feels like you blinked and 2021 is almost over. The days may be long, but the years are short, and it’s time to start thinking about your financial progress and goals. One of the best ways to see where you stand and make sure you’re on track to hit all the milestones you’re striving for is to gather all your data from the last year in preparation for your next trip around the sun.
By collecting your financial data in advance, you can avoid the economic anxiety that many people feel because they waited until the last minute to gather their stuff, says Sharita M. Humphrey, a certified financial education instructor and spokesperson for Self Financial. “Having your financial data prepared before heading into the new year will also allow individuals to decrease the risk of late tax filings, which would cost you additional penalties, interest, or fees,” she says.
Plus, it gives you time to think about your aspirations and make smart financial decisions. Here’s a look at all the data you should collect before year-end to avoid an early April ‘22 freak out.
Check Your Flexible Spending Account Balance
If you have a flexible spending account through your company, don’t forget the ‘‘use it or lose it’ policy of these accounts. The rules temporarily changed with the pandemic, but check with your employer ASAP about the current policy, recommends Mark Williams, CEO of Brokers International. “Government relief measures allow employers to let employees roll over unused FSA funds through 2022, but specific policies are up to employers to implement,” he says. “If you have money that you can’t carry over into next year, make sure you spend the balance so that you don’t lose it.”
Prepare Your Tax Documents
Though no one wants to think about taxes quite yet, the sooner you rip off the Band-Aid, the easier it’ll be to file. Humphrey says that accountants and CPAs will be super-busy in the spring, so the earlier you get these documents over to them, the better.
“The reason why you want to collect your tax documents before the end of the year is that this process could be the most time-consuming because there could be more data to collect,” she adds.
The more common tax forms that you tax professional will need to file your taxes in the new year properly will include:
- Wage information, including W-2’s or unemployment statements.
- Personal information for all fliers, including social security numbers.
- Photo identification.
- Previous year(s) tax returns.
- Charitable donations.
- Childcare or education expenses.
- Itemized medical expenses
Take Note of Your Retirement Accounts
Not only is this a good time to set yourself up for financial success in 2022, you can also look ahead to your Golden Years by taking a peek at your retirement accounts and where you stand. Take a look at your 401(k), IRA, or other account and see if you have the bandwidth to add any additional contributions, Williams says. Just make sure to keep the maximum contributions in mind.
If you’re younger than 50, the contribution limit is $19,500, but if you are 50 or older, you qualify for ‘catch-up’ contributions, meaning you can put up to $26,000 into your 401(k) each year, Williams explains. Similarly, if you have an IRA, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older, each year.
Analyze Your Bank Statements + Credit Reports
If you keep coming up short on your saving goals, your spending habits could be to blame. However, very few people set aside regular time to analyze their bank statements to analyze their biggest buckets. “Having their bank statement information readily available can help you to create a budget for the first quarter of the year to get a jumpstart on your new financial journey,” Humphrey says. Consider doing this in a relaxed setting (with a cup of tea or glass of wine!) and look for new trends + other financial nuggets you didn’t realize were part of your habits.
While you’re looking through things, Williams recommends pulling your credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax through the end of next April. “Even if you don’t check them every week, use the end of the year as a reminder to scan your credit reports for errors and inaccuracies,” he recommends. “Verify that all of the information in the reports is accurate, and make a plan to pay down your debt.”
Review Goals and Progress
Last but not least, Williams says it’s vital to review your savings goals and make sure your emergency fund is in a good place. Take the time to dig into your goals and see how they may need to adapt to meet your current situation. “If they’ve changed over the past year, adjust your savings plan accordingly. Maybe instead of upgrading to a top-of-the-line TV, you now realize you just need to splurge on a vacation,” he says. “Whatever the case, ensure your savings plan is in line with your goals and update your strategy — or expectations — as necessary.”
MORE ON HERMONEY:
- How Your Roth IRA Can Be Your Tax-Exempt Piggy Bank In Retirement
- Hacks to Reduce Your Tax Burden Well Before Tax Season
- 17 Tax Filling Tips for Women Who’ve Had A Life Change
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