The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year according to the old refrain, but for most of us, it’s also crunch time for year-end financial tasks.
Between draining your bank account on gifts and travel, then rushing to meet deadlines before the ball drops, December can quickly go from festive to stress-tive. That’s why Money is making a list (and checking it twice) to help you put a bow on 2023’s money matters.
We have a few hot tips on how to manage your holiday spending and reminders about some important dates you’ll want to keep in mind. Here’s what’s on the agenda for the final month of the year.
1. Enroll in Medicare or adjust your plan by Dec. 7
Medicare recipients or individuals 65 and older who will need health insurance by Jan. 1 don't want to miss the upcoming enrollment deadline. You may not be able to secure health insurance for 2024, or change your coverage if you’re already enrolled, if you don’t submit your application on time.
Your core plan options are:
- Original Medicare (this includes Part A and Part B).
- Medicare Advantage (aka Part C, this is an approved plan from a private company that offers an alternative to Original Medicare for health and drug coverage).
- Medicare Part D (this optional program can help pay for drug coverage premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses).
Even if you’re already one of the 65 million-plus people enrolled in Medicare, it’s always best to review your current coverage to ensure you’ll have the insurance you need. If you received any new diagnoses this year, were prescribed medication or expect any changes to your needs, like surgery, you may have to adjust your benefits.
Some people will get Original Medicare automatically when they apply for retirement or disability benefits, but others may have to sign up. You can visit Medicare.gov to find out if you need to sign up, or call 1-800-Medicare for assistance. Those who know they’re enrolled and want to review their benefits can explore plans using Medicare.gov’s Plan Finder Tool. Local State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) can provide additional assistance.
2. Avoid holiday spending debt by tapping into season-long sales
U.S. shoppers came out of the gate strong over Thanksgiving weekend, according to an annual survey from the National Retail Federation, which anticipates holiday spending could reach a record-breaking $966.6 billion this year. In years past, if you weren’t one of the millions of people hitting malls and shopping centers over Black Friday weekend, some of the season’s best deals would have already been behind you by now.
But thanks to shifts in consumer spending and behavior, that’s no longer the case — in fact, holiday deals and promotions are starting earlier and running later these days, which means there’s still plenty of time to find sales and promotions.
Shopping for deals can be helpful every year during this season, when so many of us tend to spend more than we typically do. But that's especially true right now: While taking on some holiday debt is fairly common, credit card spending has already been climbing all year, and Americans now owe unprecedented $1.08 trillion.
This year, make it a point to set a budget that you can pay for without your credit card or buy now, pay later services, especially if you have existing balances to pay off. Then stick with it. Now that online deals on everything from electronics to clothing are rolling all season long at major retailers, you don't need to feel as rushed into impromptu shopping decisions.
3. Make any last-minute 401(k) contributions (and take care of other end-of-year deadlines)
As is the case every December, workers with employer-sponsored retirement plans have until the last day of the month to make contributions. If you have a 401(k) or 403(b), you can contribute up to $22,500 for the year, and savers 50 and older can make additional “catch up” contributions up to $7,500 (or $30,000 total). It’s always ideal to max out your retirement contributions if you can afford to do so — not only will you be building financial security for the future, but you can also lower your 2023 tax bill.
Of course, not everyone can afford to contribute the maximum, but the more you can put in your accounts, the better. You can also set yourself up for success for the next year by opting for auto-deferrals now, which will automatically take money out of your paychecks and deposit it into your retirement account. (If you already enrolled, try increasing your savings rate by at least 1%). You can see the new contribution limits for 2024 here.
While you’re at it, take stock of your risk tolerance and make sure you're still comfortable with the investment allocations in your retirement accounts. If you’re already retired and turned 73, this is the year you have to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your retirement accounts. Make sure to review to avoid hefty tax penalties.
Finally, if you itemize on your tax return, you also have until Dec. 31 to make any last-minute charity contributions to lower your tax bill (and honor the spirit of giving for the holidays).
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