Check Finances Now to Avoid Falling Behind

Financial experts recommend taking a close look at your retirement savings, planning for 2022 goals and more.
Kimberly Palmer
By Kimberly Palmer 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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Fall is the perfect time to review your finances because there’s still time to make adjustments before the end of the year. The continuing pandemic and economic uncertainty are making it more complicated, but financial experts recommend taking a close look at your savings and planning for 2022 goals now.

Many government programs, including supplemental unemployment assistance, a pause on federal student loan payments and advance child tax credit payments, are poised to expire in 2022 or earlier.

“People are going back to having to pay for stuff,” says Malcolm Ethridge, a certified financial planner and host of the Tech Money Podcast.

Here are some financial to-do’s to tackle this fall:

Ramp up short-term savings

Ethridge suggests preparing for the phaseout of government benefits now: “The folks who received a moratorium on your student loans, use those additional dollars in your pocket to pay off credit card debt so you don’t have to pay both simultaneously,” he says. “We will find out we aren’t as rich as we felt we were in the last year and a half,” he adds.

Ethridge also recommends building a cash pile. “We have no idea what next year will look like,” he says. Having cash on hand allows you to cope with unexpected expenses as well as to potentially take advantage of investing opportunities.

Anticipate tax changes

If you’ve undergone any major changes in the past year that could have an impact on your tax situation, such as moving to a new state, getting married or divorced, or changing jobs, then you might want to consider talking to a tax professional now, before their busy season begins in the new year and they are overwhelmed.

“They work long hours and are focused on processing tax returns in the spring, and that’s not a good time for them to deep dive into your situation or give you strategic guidance,” says Angela Moore, CFP and founder of Modern Money Education, which offers online personal finance courses for women.

Reflect on 2021

“It’s a good time to reflect: Did we do what we said we were going to do?” says Christine Centeno, CFP and founder of Simplicity Wealth Management. She recommends looking back at your savings and spending over the past six to 12 months so you can make any necessary adjustments.

Open enrollment, when employees can make selections related to health insurance and other workplace benefits like life insurance, also tends to take place before the end of the year. Centeno suggests carefully combing through your options before making a final choice and considering any needed supplemental insurance, such as disability or life insurance. Also, make sure listed beneficiaries are up to date. “People feel more urgency about getting things in order” because of the pandemic, she says.

Top off retirement contributions

“See if you can increase your retirement contributions and maximize them before the year end,” Moore says. You can continue to contribute up to $19,500 to your 401(k) through Dec. 31; if you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 for the year. Roth IRA or IRA contributions can continue until the April 15 tax deadline.

If you’re in the fortunate position of already having maxed out your retirement contributions for the year, then you will notice your paycheck is bigger because those deductions are no longer taken out. Ethridge suggests looking into supplemental savings options such as putting money into after-tax savings accounts or college savings for children. Holiday spending also hits at the end of the year, so setting money aside for that is another good idea.

Get ready for 2022

Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, says some people are also thinking about job changes right now.

“For a lot of people, they don’t want to return to in-person workplaces, so they are looking at new jobs,” she says. If that’s the case, then you might need to set aside extra cash for a job transition, especially if it could mean a lower salary, she says.

Other big 2022 goals might include finally taking a vacation that was deferred earlier in the pandemic or renovating part of your house that you’ve been spending so much time in. “The sooner people say what they want and put it on the table, you can set that money aside so you’re ready,” Braxton says.

Part of that planning also means preparing for continued economic turbulence, warns Frank Pare, CFP and president and managing partner of PF Wealth Management Group.

“If something happens, like the market tanks tomorrow, money should be set aside for your near-term goals so that uncertainty wouldn’t impact you,” he says. That way, he says, you can still continue with your plans, whether it’s to finally retire or take a pandemic-delayed trip.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by the Associated Press.

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