Ah, May. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and procrastinators everywhere are scrambling to gather every loose receipt and IRS document to meet the May 17 tax filing deadline.
But there are more money moves to make this month beyond just your most dreaded financial chores. In fact, May is a particularly advantageous time to be thinking about more fun money tasks, like planning for summer travel or preparing to fund bigger future goals.
This month, Money is focusing on spending and saving decisions you can make right now and then reap the benefits of down the line in your work, education and more. Here are the five key money moves to make this May:
1. File your taxes and make final contributions to your IRA and HSA
Taxpayers once again got an extension from the IRS on their filing deadline this year, from April 15 to May 17. But unlike last year when, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, people ended up getting to file in July, this month is the last call for most people.
If you haven't filed yet, the odds are that it's because you owe taxes — and that certainly gives you less incentive to track down all that paperwork.
“The joke in the tax world is people who know they’re getting a refund file in January and people who know they owe wait until the tax filing deadline,” says Kristen Euretig, a certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans.
Owing taxes is certainly never as fun as getting a big refund. The good news is you still have time to reduce how much you owe and more importantly, save for your future health and retirement needs.
You can do this by putting money into an individual retirement account or a health savings account, which lowers your taxable income and therefore lowers how much you have to pay to the IRS. The deadline for filers to make any IRA or HSA contributions that count toward 2020 was also pushed back until May 17.
But remember, there are still limits to how much you can put into a tax-advantaged account like an IRA:
“IRAs have a [contribution] limit,” Euretig says. “It’s more complicated than I think people realize.”
The 2020 total contribution limit for Roth and traditional IRAs is $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re over 50). But according to Euretig, the limit on tax deductible contributions to a traditional IRA can be reduced if you also get retirement coverage like a 401(k) through you or your spouse’s job. It’s also important to note that the $6,000 limit is for all IRAs, meaning you can’t just contribute $6,000 to multiple accounts and hope to write them all off.
Additionally, those who were unemployed for any time after March 2020 or are owed ‘plus-up’ stimulus checks should also file their returns as soon as possible — there’s probably extra money waiting for you.
2. Lock in your summer travel deals now
Over 235 million Americans have already received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a number that is only expected to rise during the month of May. And with climbing vaccination rates comes increased bookings for flights, hotels and vacation packages.
“Travel funds have just been sitting there for a lot of people,” Euretig says.
According to data from location analytics start up, Placer.ai, while traffic at the five largest U.S. airports is still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, visits grew exponentially between February and March, with an increase of 82% at Dallas/Fort Worth, 68% at Chicago O’Hare and 59% at LAX. Additionally, car rental services like Hertz and Enterprise have reported major vehicle shortages even at less popular destinations.
So if you’re looking to celebrate your vaccinated status with a big trip, you want to book it sooner rather than later.
The pandemic spurred the hospitality and travel industry to make a ton of concessions and accommodations for guests, from flexible refund policies to bonus miles and VIP status. But as life returns to “normal,” all those extra perks are likely to drop off. Booking flights and hotels now for summer vacation or even the holiday season can help you score a better deal while still offering that extra flexibility in case your plans change.
3. Contribute to a 529 college savings plan
May 29 is National 529 College Savings Day (get it? 5/29?). While it might sound like a marketing day for 529 plan providers, that doesn’t mean it’s not also a good opportunity to put aside some more for your child (or future child’s) education. In fact, many states and educational institutions that sponsor tax-advantaged 529 plans use the month of May and 529 Day to provide families with special bonuses if they enroll.
College savings plans are designed to help families by offering tax-free growth and spending on qualified post-secondary education expenses like college or vocational school tuition. But they’re still a relatively unknown product. Even those who know about the products tend to underfund them, with the average family having saved only $18,000 for higher education by the time they have to start paying tuition. So with the potential promotions this month, it’s a great time to learn how 529 plans can be used to make a much bigger contribution to your child’s education.
Even if you don’t have a child yet or don’t plan on having kids, a 529 can still potentially be a beneficial tool. If you’re interested in going back to college or just consider yourself a lifelong learner, you can use funds from a 529 to support your own educational endeavors.
4. Apply for a PPP loan
If you’re a small business owner, this month is your last chance to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, aka a PPP loan.
PPP loans are forgivable loans that were initially included in the 2020 CARES Act as a response to the financial crisis that stemmed from the pandemic. They’re designed to help employers pay and retain employees during the economic crisis. While there have been multiple rounds and extensions of the program by both President Biden and former President Trump, the May 31 deadline to apply is likely to be the last.
Some $44 billion remains available for first-time applicants with less than 500 employees. (If you’ve already received funding for your business via a PPP loan, the employee cutoff is 300.) The maximum loan amount is $2 million.
5. Start budgeting for “back to normal”
Just a few months ago, going back to a life that resembled “normal” might have seemed like a long ways away for most people. Now as we move toward a vaccinated workforce, many employers have already begun alerting their staff working from home to prepare for June or September return dates.
Even if you don’t know when you’ll be heading back to work (or you’ve still been commuting this whole time), with more states lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Euretig says it’s a good idea to start preparing to spend more than you’ve been used to over the past year.
“People will have to give themselves room to remember those kinds of costs for going to the workplace.”
Think: those $20 mediocre salad bowls when you forget your lunch, mid-day drugstore runs for pain reliever and lip balm, and last-minute happy hours with friends. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of things like your gym membership and movie date nights.
But before you start to feel guilty for any frivolous spending, Euretig says to keep in mind that it makes perfect sense for your spending to increase along with your daily freedoms.
“Those expenses are coming back and that’s fine, that’s life,” she says. “People feel like they’re failing when they start saving less but [the past year] was not normal. This is normal and yeah, your savings might look different but the tradeoff is that we’re back to life.”