March Financial To-Do List

March Financial To-Do ListReady or not, spring is right around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to get in fiscal shape for the rest of the year. However, tax preparation isn’t the only thing to put on your list. Here are a few other must-dos to keep you financially fit.

Purge Your Papers

After you finish your taxes, shred papers you don’t need, like credit card or ATM receipts. Then organize the papers you need to keep, such as car titles, loan paperwork, retirement statements, etc. Store them in a fireproof safe or password-protected file. You’ll also want to deactivate accounts (and apps) you no longer use. When you do this and rid yourself of that extra paper, as well as eliminate related files on your computer, it helps minimize the risk of your personal data being stolen should you or any institutions you’re registered with get hacked. Now, all of these tasks assume you’ve already filed with Uncle Sam and aren’t filing an extension. If you are filing an extension, that’s the next task on your list.

File a Tax Extension

And you’ll probably want to do so with E-File. But know this: an extension of time to file your return does not grant you any extension of time to pay your taxes. You should estimate and pay any owed taxes by your regular deadline to help avoid possible penalties. Finally, you must file your extension request no later than the regular due date of your return. For more info, check out this helpful page.

Evaluate College Aid Offers

If you have a high school senior, March is the time that they learn whether or not they’ve been accepted to colleges. It’s also the prime time to figure out how much money you’ll need for their education. If your child has been lucky enough to have received a financial aid letter, you’ll want to sit down and calculate how much cash you’ll need to supply or borrow. Generally, the universities include info in their letters about federal loans that you qualify for, so you can start that process. However, if you don’t like the offer that’s been extended, you can appeal it. Some schools may increase their offer.

Consider Buying Flood Insurance

April showers are just up ahead, but there are other forces of nature to contend with in spring: hurricanes, mudslides, and melting snow from freak freezes out of nowhere. All of these weather events breed water – and in some cases, too much of it. Check your homeowner’s insurance first to see if these acts of God are covered. If floods aren’t included, then flood insurance is something to look into. Even if you don’t live in a high-risk area, according to the National Flood Insurance Program, 20 percent of claims come from low- to moderate-risk areas. While annual premiums can run around $700 to 800 a year if you live in a low- to moderate-risk area, this could be less. Usually, there’s a 30-day waiting period before the policy kicks in, so it makes sense to buy it before you really need it.

Score on Deep Discounts

Now that winter is a distant memory, retailers are getting rid of cold weather inventory in March. Think winter coats, cozy clothing, and space heaters, for starters. Replacement windows and air purifiers are also priced low. And to get in the mood for spring cleaning, you may find vacuum cleaners on sale. Look for price cuts on (or around) St. Patrick’s Day, too. If you want to find more deals, you don’t need the luck of the Irish – just Google “March markdowns” and dive in.

Getting organized in March sets a great precedent for the rest of the year. Don’t miss this opportunity to get your financial house in order for the coming months.


Your February Financial To-Do List

February Savings TipsJanuary has come and gone. You may or may not have stuck to your resolutions, but the good news is that February is here. Now is the perfect time to hunker down and get your monetary ducks in a row. Here are a few things to put on your agenda to get your financial house in order.

Pay Off Holiday Debt

Yes, it was fun to go shopping for holiday gifts, but those interest rates are high – you’ll want to pay your balances off as quickly as possible. And here’s a tip: you can make more than one payment per billing period. In other words, instead of waiting for your next paycheck, pay some of the balance now and some later. This will reduce the interest you’d pay if you waited two more weeks to pay in full. This way, you can actually pay your credit card bills more frequently and pay less over time. While you’re at it, look for lower interest rates and transfer those balances. All it takes is a Google search for “zero balance transfer credit card offers,” and you’ll find what you need in no time.

Start Working on Your Taxes

April will be here before you know it, so getting a jump on taxes is a smart idea. Also, filing early will give you more time to figure out how much you owe, if anything. If you want to take the guesswork out of preparing your taxes, you might consider hiring a tax professional. When you make your selection, ask for a price quote. Some tax preparers often want to see which forms you need before they work on your taxes, but you can still ask for a list of fees for various types of tax help to get a ballpark idea. Here’s a red flag: if someone says they’ll base your fees on a percentage of your refund, run away. This is a violation of IRS rules.

Get a Free Credit Report

All the big reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – offer a free report one time every 12 months. So why not find out? When you see the truth of your credit report, it can motivate you to change some habits, like paying earlier, more often, and on time. No one likes late fees.

Save on a Gym Membership

In January, you probably got pummeled with lots of solicitations for a gym membership at low, low prices, but in February, the prices are even lower. If you don’t want to commit, you can sign up for a trial run. You can even negotiate a deal if you ask to speak to the manager. Finally, some gyms will offer you a deep discount if you agree to use the facilities during off-peak hours or on certain days. Flexibility is the key!

Buy Things on Deep Discount

With high prices and high-interest rates, it makes sense to check out all the price cuts on Consumer Reports. On this site, you’ll find all the good stuff: cars, home and garden supplies, appliances, electronics, and more.

These are just a few of the items you can put on your financial to-do list. All it takes is carving out some time and getting started. Once you get going, you’ll probably make more progress than you ever dreamed.


How a No-Spend January Can Kickstart Your New Year

Here we go again. The new year is approaching and those resolutions are staring us in the face – and the most common? Saving money. In fact, according to YouGov, this is the most important resolution for American adults. Now certainly, you can’t not spend money in January (you have to eat), but the idea is to rid yourself of any unnecessary cash outflow so you can kickstart the year with some solid financial habits.

Limit Trips to the Store

Of course, you’ll need food, toiletries and general household staples, but here’s your chance to step back and make lists, as opposed to running out to Target or Starbucks for a quick adrenaline rush. Plan your trips out. Buy store brands. Check prices. Use those coupons. Set your sights on the long view of the month, if not the year. This is one way to work toward getting fiscally fit.

Eat Everything in your Pantry

You probably have cans of soup and pasta sitting on your shelves. Maybe even some canned veggies. Google some simple recipes with the items you have, add some spices and voila, you’ve got a tasty, no-spend meal. Noshing like this can lead to long-term savings.

Forgo Eating Out

Once more, this tip is related to the first two. Truth is, you’ll want to go out to eat a few times – so go – but within reason. The trick is to find affordable spots with delicious grub. Another money-saving idea: split your entrees. You’ll not only save dollars, but also calories.

Reevaluate Your Subscriptions

This is something that might creep up on you during the year. While you’ve been scrolling these past months, you might have seen an irresistible product and you just had to have it – whether it was special vitamins, a hip magazine or yet another streaming station with all those binge-worthy shows you can’t stop watching. But you might ask yourself: are these expenditures really improving my life? Once you see how much money you’ll be saving, you’ll most likely feel better (new and improved!) already.

Invest the Money You’re Saving

Now that you’ve cut back, you should have a surplus of cash accumulated over the year. So, what to do? One of the best things to do is tuck it away in a high-yield savings account. Just like with regular (traditional) savings accounts, you can withdraw when you want to. But with a high yield, you’ll most likely have a limit to how often you can take money out, which is usually six times per month without a fee. The main difference between a traditional and high-yield savings account is the interest rate. The current national average interest rate for a traditional savings account is 0.64 percent APY. Comparatively, top high-yield savings accounts pay between 4.25 percent and 5.27 percent. You in? Thought so.

Moral of the story? No-spend January is all about starting some new habits for 2024 – and watching them pay off. This way during the new year, you’re not just working for your money, but allowing your money to work for you.




4 Smart Ways to Maximize Your IRA Contributions

Unless you’re near retirement, chances are you’re depositing a certain amount of cash each year in your IRA at tax time, then kind of forgetting about it, not thinking much about it until the next year. This dynamic can cost you a lot of money – today and at retirement age. Here are few ways to make all your hard-earned money work even harder.

Invest your money, don’t simply fund it. According to a Vanguard study, two-thirds of last-minute IRA contributions end up just sitting in money market funds. The result? They’re just a little more than a checking account with a fancy name. Lesson: Don’t let your funds sit idle. They should be placed in the right investment; perhaps, a target-date mutual fund. Maybe a bond fund, or some carefully selected stocks. Do the work now. Take time to analyze what’s right for you so you can max out your investment.

Convert to a Roth. This scenario might not apply to you, but it’s a reality that quite a few have encountered: A sharp mid-career income loss, say, because of the pandemic, which would put you into a lower tax bracket. If this applies to you, it’s a good time to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth. Another scenario where converting might be a good idea is if tax rates are temporarily lowered by Congress. There’s also the backdoor Roth, which is a good tax reduction strategy; it works best for people who have high salaries (think C-suite) and access to a workplace retirement plan that causes them to be ineligible to deduct their traditional IRA contributions in the first place. It’s easy. Open a new traditional IRA, make non-deductible contributions, then convert it to a Roth. All said and done, no matter where you fall on the income spectrum, Roth IRAs are well worth looking into.

Avoid the procrastination penalty. Sure, making a full-sized IRA contribution right before your filing deadline feels good. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do, right? Taking the tax break for the prior year, right? Yes, but not so fast. (Just to refresh, it’s $6,500 for individuals in 2023; $7,500 for people 50 and older; the contribution cap is $7,000 for individuals in 2024 and $8,000 for people 50 and older.) But here’s the rub: You’ve left more than 15 months of potential investment income on the table. What? Yes, that is $6,500 that you should have invested during the previous year, maybe placed in a mutual fund or stock, that could have been earning for you. So, think again about waiting until the last minute to contribute. It might end up being quite costly.

Invest in stocks and bonds – strategically. If you’ve been lucky enough to maximize your tax-advantaged account contributions and have some cash left over in your standard investment accounts, think about buying bonds in your IRA and stocks in your standard account. But why? Bond dividends are taxed as ordinary income. Stocks and stock-filled mutual funds generally generate capital gains. Specifically, these gains aren’t simply regular payments you get from your stocks. They’re the increase in their sticker price each year. It’s important to understand the difference. Capital gains, which only occur when you sell a stock or fund, are taxed at a lower rate. It makes sense to put them in taxable investment account and then save your tax-advantaged accounts for larger investments. Regardless of which IRA you decide upon, you won’t pay taxes on money while it stays put in your account.

Saving for retirement is one of the most important things you can do. Granted, life happens and sometimes you get off track. But if you keep your eyes on your future nest egg and max out contributions while you’re working, you’ll be better prepared to enjoy your next season of life.


7 Smart Saving Strategies for Retirement

How to Save for RetirementNext year, something called Peak 65 is happening. This moniker refers to the fact that more Americans will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the same year than at any time in history. Crazy, right? However, many of these people don’t feel like they’ve saved enough to live comfortably after they retire. Here are some ways to maximize your savings and cut costs so you can be prepared and retire with less financial worry.

Use a retirement calculator. This is key. You’ll be able to see if what you have in retirement so far will be enough to actually live on. Here’s the tool. Once you know where you are, you’ll be able to determine your financial goals.

Catch up on retirement savings. If you’re over age 50, you can make something called “catch-up contributions.” You can increase your 401(k) salary deferrals by up to $30,000 and up to $7,500 in your IRA. Look into this ASAP. The more you contribute, the more you’ll close the gap between what you have and what you’ll need.

Put together a sample budget. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a household run by someone aged 65+ spends on average $4,345 a month, which is about $52,141 a year. Given this fact, it makes sense to take a look at your budget to see where you can cut back. Do you have numerous streaming services or magazine subscriptions? Can you use public transportation instead of driving? Must you buy name brands at the grocery store or would generic suffice? Review several months of expenses and ask yourself these types of questions. You might be surprised at what you discover and how you can save.

Utilize your Health Savings Account (HSA). This is a great tool to help you prep for health care costs when you retire. Once you enroll in Medicare at 65, you can still use your HSA investments, even if you no longer qualify to contribute. But you can get started on this early. Once you’re 55, you can contribute an extra $1,000 to your HSA each year on top of the maximum amount you’re using to catch up.

Consider part-time work. Having some supplemental income is a great idea when you retire. You’ll not only keep busy, which for some is critical, but also generate extra cash. You might even start a small business. What is it that you’ve always wanted to do? What are you passionate about? These questions are worth exploring.

Move to a less expensive city. There are some states that are simply less costly. And when you’re downsizing, which lots of people do when they retire, it makes a difference in your quality of life. For instance, Montana doesn’t have any sales tax, and state taxes are 33 percent less than the U.S. average. Here are a few others to consider.

These are just a few of the things you can do to prepare for one of the most important seasons of your life. No matter when or how you decide to retire, in the long run, it pays to start thinking about it before these years are even on the horizon.