The New Year is a great time to sit down and assess your financial situation, make any necessary adjustments and plan for the future. You’ll not only gain a fresh perspective for 2013, but you’ll also be prepared to tackle the next 12 months (and beyond) on the financial front.
Here’s a checklist that you can use to kick things off and a few tips for getting the most out of this exercise:
1. Take a realistic approach: you don’t have to reach for the stars when planning for the coming year. Instead, take small, deliberate steps to get your finances in order. If you’ll need a new car this year, for example, start socking away $100–$200 per month in anticipation of a down payment, insurance costs and your first few monthly payments.
2. Write down your short-term and long-term financial goals: buying your own home or paying off your student loans are probably long-term goals (3–5 years out), but starting a retirement plan or setting up your own health insurance plan can be done sooner (6–12 months). Come up with a good mix of long- and short-term goals for yourself, and then develop a list of steps that it will take to achieve them (for health insurance, for example, you should shop around first, compare plans, figure out how much you can budget for it and then start filling out the necessary applications).
3. Take the lessons learned in 2012 into 2013, but don’t dwell on them: what went on financially in your life in 2012? Are you happy with the results, or would alternate decisions and/or moves have been more beneficial for you? (Perhaps that oversize apartment in Manhattan for $3,500 a month wasn’t the best idea during your first year on your own, for example.) Assess last year’s decisions and outcomes and then use those “lessons learned” to make smarter money decisions in the year ahead.
4. Start thinking about taxes for 2012: it’s never too soon to start prepping yourself for that April IRS deadline, especially if you experienced life changes (graduated college, moved out on your own, got married, etc.) in the last 12 months. Review your 2011 return, pinpoint areas that have changed (filing status, children/dependents, etc.) and talk to an accountant to ensure that you’re getting the maximum tax benefits while also following all of the IRS’ rules. Read the IRS’ Tax Tips for 2012 here.
5. Make 2013 the year you get a handle on both spending and debt: the last few years have been particularly tough on the economic front for American families and individuals. You can avoid these pains in 2013 by developing a budget or spending plan, and by doing what you can to avoid racking up higher debt levels (by rubber-banding those credit cards into a stack and hiding them in a drawer this year, for example). The latter will also help you improve your credit score and help you prepare for future life-changing financial events. Get a free copy of your credit report every year here.
This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed and is subject to change. Since each individual’s financial situation is unique, you need to review your financial objectives to determine which approaches might work best for you.
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