Year end financial advice: A good time to do some financial house cleaning

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Budgeting and other financial issues could use some attention at the end of the year.

"Tax Credits" via Flicker.com under a creative commons license

The end of the year is a good time to do some financial house cleaning.

The personal finance blog One Cent at a Time recommends reviewing your beneficiaries: "Review the person or people you've named for your retirement accounts and insurance policies. Did you have a death, birth, or divorce this year that could change the beneficiaries?"

Madison DuPaix, the guide to Kids and Money at about.com, says people should make donations: "Box up your unused clothes, books, and household goods and drop them off at your local shelter or Goodwill. You'll likely be making room for more gifts and toys, so it's a good time to clear out the clutter. In addition, it's a great time of year to make donations to your local food pantry."

Suze Orman at Oprah.com says this is a great time of the year to crunch your budget numbers to see how much money you have for holiday gifts: " The question isn't what you want to give — I know you want your loved ones to have it all, and I appreciate how big your heart is. The question is what you can afford.

The right amount to give is what you can spend today without compromising your own needs. The bottom line: Under no circumstances should you incur debt you can't immediately pay off in order to give a gift. That means no credit card balances rolling into January. I understand the tug of holiday tradition — you always get every niece and nephew a Hanukkah gift. But in this rough economy, you may need to rethink your approach. Sit down and calculate exactly what you can comfortably spend, and be vigilant in sticking to that amount."

Along those lines, Jeremy Vohwinkle at Generation X Finance says people should get back to budgeting: "A budget is one of those things we love to hate because we know more money is going out than should be and without taking a good hard look at expenses it can be difficult to curb that spending. So, what better time to start than when the calendar flips to a new year? Try starting one today. It takes a little time and effort to really get into the habit of budgeting and expense tracking, so there's no need to pile it on with the rest of your New Year resolutions. Get a jump on it today so you can slowly get your process dialed in and kick off the new year without the stress of adding a brand new chore to your regular routine."

Clarky Davis in the Hartford Courant says to review bank and credit card statements: "Make sure you review and understand your current debt balances and any payment terms with your creditors. You want to ensure the correct charges have been made, and take any necessary steps if you have been the victim of fraudulent charges."

John Ulzheimer at MintLife.com says it is also a good time to claim your yearly free credit report: "We've had the right to free annual credit reports since 2003 when the Fair Credit Reporting Act was amended by 'FACTA' or the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003. … (O)nly 4 percent of those free credit reports are claimed each year, which isn't very good. You can claim your report once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. They don't 'roll over' like some cell phone minutes, so don't waste them and forgo your rights."

Craig Guillot also writes at MintLife about how people can spend money in their Flexible spending accounts before the year is over. People can buy various types of birth control, visit the dentist and get new glasses. "If you get a doctor's order or recommendation," Guillot says, "FSA funds can also be used to cover activities, programs, equipment or medications related to self-improvement." For example, a program to stop smoking that doesn't include non-prescription things like nicotine gum or patches.

Michele Dawson at Realtor.com talked about the advantages of buying a home at the end of the year:

"Tax savings. Closing on your new home by Dec. 31 means you can deduct mortgage interest, property taxes and points on your loan on your income tax return."

"Sellers might be more motivated."

"If you're buying a new house, there's a good chance builders will be offering incentives."

"It's easier to move. Many moving companies are booked six or so weeks in advance during the busy summer months."

"A new home for the holidays. The holiday season is a great time to celebrate your new home with family and friends."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com TWITTER: @degroote FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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