As the year comes to an end, now is a great time to take stock of your financial situation and prepare for the year ahead.
A year-end review may provide valuable insights, enabling you to make necessary financial adjustments that can help set you up for success in the future. To assist you with this process, here are a few important steps for assessing your finances.
Review your budget
Initiate your planning process by combing through your annual income and expenditures and evaluating how well you saved. Review your income sources—including salaries, bonuses, investments, and other revenue streams—and analyze your expenses, such as by checking your credit card statements, to examine the distribution of your income throughout the year. By distinguishing between essential and discretionary spending, you can identify the areas where you either maintained budgetary discipline or veered off track. This can help you fine-tune your financial habits for the upcoming year and better commit to your goals and a more efficient allocation of resources.
Check your credit and debt
Managing debt and maintaining a healthy credit profile are key components of taking care of your financial well-being. Before the year ends, check your credit reports for errors or signs of identity theft so you can make any necessary disputes about inaccurate information. These reports will also give you an idea of what may be currently impacting your credit score, which can help you see how you might be able to improve it in the coming year and, in turn, open doors for better financial opportunities and loan terms.
Further, check in on any outstanding debt, including credit card balances, student loans, mortgages, and other personal loans. Notice how much you paid them down this year, and determine if you can better target your principal balances going forward. Consider trying either the avalanche method (targeting your highest interest-rate debt first) or snowball method (prioritizing your smallest debts) to help pay them off as quickly as possible.
Get ahead with taxes
Though Tax Day isn’t for several more months, you may want to start prepping for it sooner rather than later. If you had any big life changes this year, like a marriage, divorce, or birth of a child, assess how it may impact your tax withholdings and if you need to update your status. Work on gathering necessary documents, including your tax return from the previous year and receipts for any charitable donations, business expenses, or other tax-deductible expenses. If you have a complex financial situation, you may want to consult with a tax professional to optimize your strategy. Also, make sure that your employer has the correct address so you can receive your tax forms on time. By completing each of these steps now, you can help alleviate some of the stress you may otherwise feel come tax season.
Update your insurance coverage
Insurance plays an important role in protecting yourself and your loved ones. Take the time to review your existing insurance policies, including health, life, auto, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, and determine whether your coverage levels are sufficient or if there are any potential gaps in your protection. Changes in your personal circumstances may require adjustments to your insurance, so research and compare providers to be certain that you have the best coverage at the most competitive rates.
Work on estate planning
While estate planning may not be a topic most people enjoy contemplating, it is a vital part of ensuring your loved ones are taken care of. Review and update your will, any trusts, and your beneficiaries for your life insurance and retirement accounts. Make sure each one accurately reflects your current circumstances. This is also a good time to evaluate your need for additional estate planning documents, such as powers of attorney or health care directives, which provide guidance and legal authority in critical situations. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to better determine what documents you should acquire according to your specific needs.
Set goals for the new year
Finally, reflect on your past financial goals and achievements, celebrating your successes and learning from any setbacks. This can assist you in defining specific and measurable financial goals for the upcoming year, whether that includes saving for a down payment on a house, starting an emergency fund, or investing in your education or business. Whatever your goals may be, make them realistic and break them down into actionable steps you can follow. Creating a plan and tracking your progress will help keep you accountable and motivated to pursue them.
Financial planning is an ongoing process, so be sure to regularly review your finances throughout the year and adjust your strategies and long-term goals as your circumstances change.