With summer ending and the school year starting, September can often feel like a new beginning. That makes it a great time to re-evaluate and re-commit to any financial goals you may have let fall by the wayside.
Whether you're trying to save money for a home, pay down debt, ask for a raise or do all three, set aside some time this month to check on your progress. Of course, there are also a few short-term money tasks that may require your attention this month. We've rounded up the most important of those, including a few to-dos for homeowners, plus some early-bird-gets-the-worm type of advice around holiday shopping.
Here's your checklist for the month of September:
1. The last chance to sign up for federal mortgage forbearance
Borrowers with government-backed FHA loans, VA loans or USDA loans who have not enrolled in forbearance plans yet have the option to do so through Sept. 30. Enrollment in this pandemic-era relief program has fallen since 2020, but if your finances have recently taken a hit and you're worried about paying your bills, you may still be eligible to request a pause in your mortgage payments.
Keep in mind that while forbearance can be a temporary lifeline, it's not your only option if you're in financial trouble, particularly if you're expecting long-term challenges. You may be better served by talking with a housing counselor, modifying your mortgage or even selling your home. (Here's some guidance on all of those and other options to help struggling homeowners.)
2. Buy flood insurance before prices climb
New rules for federal flood coverage mean that homeowners who need to purchase flood insurance could pay more for a policy if they don't act soon. They also could lose the perk of limits on how much their premiums can rise in future years. The changes to policies under the National Flood Insurance Program take affect Oct. 1 for new policyholders and April 1 for current policyholders.
Not everyone's rates will increase. FEMA estimates that nearly a quarter of current policyholders will actually see their rates drop, due to changes that should enhance the program's ability to differentiate between risk in more detail, like, for instance, how a second floor condo is less likely to flood than a first floor condo at the same address.
But most homeowners will see a modest increase of about $10 a month, and some homeowners could see increases of more than $240 a year. The new rates are supposed to more heavily reflect a property's replacement value than rates do right now, so owners of large beachfront properties, for example, are likely to be on the higher end of the increases. Read a fuller break down of the changes and who's affected here.
3. See if you can get help in paying your internet bill
Millions of lower-income Americans are eligible for a pandemic-relief program that provides up to $50 a month to help cover the cost of internet. So far, about 5 million U.S. households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, receiving about $378 million in support.
There's no fixed deadline to apply, and there's still $2.8 billion available for the program. But support runs only until the money runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever comes sooner.
Eligible households must have an income of 135% or less of the federal poverty guidelines, or have seen their income drop substantially due to job loss. Others who can enroll are people who are eligible for existing federal support, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also called SNAP and food stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) or certain tribal programs. To learn more, go to getemergencybroadband.org.
4. Check that your home insurance policy is adequate
The pandemic brought about a boom in home renovations, with more than half of homeowners making improvements, according to The Hanover Insurance Group. That, alongside pricier construction costs, means your home insurance policy may not be up to the task any longer.
Your home insurance covers the cost of rebuilding your house, should disaster strike. If you've made a major change to your home, then rebuilding it may cost more. That's why experts suggest adjusting your coverage levels to reflect the value of your home with the new improvements.
5. Pay your quarterly taxes
Heads up to all the freelancers, gig workers, contractors and the self-employed: there's another tax deadline this month. Estimated taxes for the past three months are due on Sept. 15.
We know a lot of people may be new to freelance or gig work, so here's a quick rundown: Taxes have to be paid as you earn during the year, either through withholding from your paycheck or estimated tax payments. Because taxes aren't taken out of wages for this type of work, you're supposed to make payments to the IRS four times a year. If you don't pay enough tax by the due date of each payment period, you may be charged a penalty even if you're due a refund when you file your income tax return at the end of the year.
6. Start thinking about holiday shopping
O.K., for the record: In normal times we are staunchly against the phenomenon of "holiday creep." Pumpkin spice lattes shouldn't arrive until October, you shouldn't play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, and so on.
But the reality is shopping this holiday season is likely to be stressful. Supply chain issues are expected to continue, and potentially get worse, in the final months of 2021, according to a report from investment bank Raymond James. Factory closures are stalling some production, while disruptions at major global shipping ports are making it more expensive for companies to ship their goods.
Brands such as Adidas, Nike and Yeti have already warned of ripple effects from COVID-19-related disruptions. The leaders at major toy companies have said the same, warning that there may not be enough product to meet demand. You can try to combat these challenges by starting your holiday shopping now.
If you're looking for a silver lining, starting early will give you more time to plan a budget and potentially spread out larger purchases, avoiding the temptation to plop a bunch of last-minute buys onto your credit card. Keep in mind that every year, there are surveys documenting how many people feel pressured to spend more than they'd like during the holidays. One tip to avoid this? Set a spending limit for each person on your list and stick to it.
7. Look into those Thanksgiving flights
If you're planning to fly around the holidays, CheapAir's predictions show September as the best month to buy airfare for Thanksgiving. The website predicts less month-to-month variation for flights around the December holidays, but experts recommend buying two to three months ahead of when you plan to fly.