Knocking off a few financial tasks early in the year can better prepare you for whatever 2021 has in store. Here are a few to consider:
File your tax return ASAP. Filing your tax return early typically means getting your refund sooner. Not only that, it could thwart refund-stealing identity thieves. Also, if you were owed a stimulus check in 2020 but didn't get one, or should have gotten more, you can claim the missing money on your return. And if you owe the IRS, it's better to know sooner rather than later.
Check your withholding. Once your 2020 tax return is prepared, you can use that and your first pay stub from 2021 to see if you are on track with tax withholding. A good tax-withholding calculator can help you determine how to adjust the amounts taken from each paycheck. Then, contact your employer if you need to make changes. If you are self-employed, you may need to make estimated quarterly payments.
Adjust your retirement savings. Consider increasing and diversifying your retirement contributions. After you take full advantage of any available company match in a 401(k) or 403(b), look into funding a Roth IRA. Financial planners often recommend having at least some money in a Roth so you can better control your tax bill in retirement.
Check your spending. Even if you can't get the full year's worth of transactions, reviewing just a few months can show you some patterns and help you identify spending you want to change.
Set up your savings 'buckets.' Preparing for irregular but predictable expenses can help you feel less panicked when those bills arrive. Check your spending on insurance premiums, property taxes, car and home repairs, vacations, back-to-school shopping and holidays to ballpark how much to save this year.
Once you have your savings goals for each category, consider setting up separate savings accounts at an online bank that doesn't charge monthly fees.
Put charitable contributions on automatic. You can use your bank's bill-pay system to send monthly checks or arrange with the charity to charge a credit card.
Spend your medical FSA. If you signed up for your employer's medical Flexible Spending Account, try to spend that money as early in the year as possible. You don't have to wait until the money is taken from your paycheck to use it for eligible health care expenses. (That's different from child care FSAs, which don't allow you to spend money before you contribute it.)
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