Sometimes money is like technology. Getting stuff done — whether it’s updating an operating system or moving a bank account — often takes longer than it should.
There are some money chores, though, that can be completed a lot faster than you may think. The following financial tasks, which could save you a lot of cash and stress in the future, each can be dispatched in 15 minutes or less once you have decided on a plan and have your information at hand.
Adjust your withholding
Tax reform means different brackets, the elimination of many deductions and the real possibility you are withholding too much or too little. Avoid unpleasant surprises next year by checking your withholding now.
You will need last year’s tax return plus your latest pay stubs. Plug the necessary numbers into the IRS site’s withholding calculator. The results will include instructions on exactly how to tweak your withholding, with a convenient link to a printable W-4 form. You can drop that off at your human resources department, or ask HR if there’s an online form.
Draft powers of attorney
Most Americans don’t have a will, which means they likely don’t have two documents that are even more important: powers of attorney for health care and finances.
If anything, these two estate planning documents — in which you name the people you want to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated — are even more important than a will. Wills are supposed to dictate what happens after you are dead, but powers of attorney affect what can happen while you are alive.
For the medical power of attorney (also called an advance health care directive in some states), name your fiercest advocate: the person who is devoted enough to carry out your wishes and stand up to doctors or relatives who disagree.
For the financial power of attorney, name the person in your life who is not only good with money but also extremely ethical. Consider naming backups to both positions, and collect everyone’s addresses and phone numbers before you begin.
You may be able to get these documents for free or low cost if your job offers prepaid legal services. Otherwise, you can buy Quicken WillMaker software, which includes the forms, for about $80, or use online sites such as LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer charges $40 per document, while LegalZoom charge $35 for power of attorney for finances and $39 for a health care power of attorney combined with a living will.
Start saving for college
Have kids? They are going to need some kind of postsecondary training to succeed in the 21st century. Don’t worry right now about whether they will get a four-year degree. You probably can’t save enough to pay the whole bill for that anyway. But whatever you save can reduce future student loan debt for whatever education they wind up getting.
A state-run 529 college savings plan is the best place for most families to save, and many states offer tax benefits (search for your state’s name and “529 tax break” to see what’s available). You are not restricted to your own state’s plan, though, so if you don’t qualify for a tax benefit in your own state, then consider one of the four plans Morningstar named as best in the country: Illinois’ Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program; Nevada’sVanguard 529 College Savings Plan; Utah’s my529; and, Virginia’s Invest 529 plan.
Go to the plan’s site to open an account, then set up an automatic transfer from your checking account. You typically can start with $25 per month or less, depending on the plan.
Roll over a retirement account
Don’t risk losing track of your retirement money. If you currently have a good 401(k) plan at work, call the plan’s toll-free number to find out if it will accept a rollover from your previous job’s account. (What’s a good plan? One indicator is that it offers low-cost options, such as target date funds with an annual expense ratio under 0.66 percent, which is the current industry average.) If the plan accepts rollovers, ask for help in getting started — filling out the forms takes just a few minutes if you have the account number for your old plan.
Another option is to roll your old 401(k) into an IRA, where you will typically have more investment options. Open an account with an IRA custodian — Vanguard and Fidelity are two good, low-cost options, or choose Betterment or Wealthfront if you’re looking for a computerized robo-advisor that will manage the money for you. These sites’ online IRA rollover forms will guide you through the process.
Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” E-mail: email@example.com. Twitter: @lizweston.