The end of each year is a time for wrapping up loose ends and preparing for a new year. Getting your finances in order should be a priority for college students and recent graduates. The following are five items that should be on your year-end financial to-do list.
1. Donate to Charity
Making a charitable donation before the end of the year can easily boost your deductions on your 2014 tax return. You can donate anything from money or clothing to stocks or bonds. Make sure to get a written receipt from the organization for your records.
2. Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans
Refinancing or consolidating student loans to obtain a more reasonable monthly payment and a lower interest rate is a great way to start 2015. Refinancing essentially means you’re borrowing a new loan and using the money to pay off the existing loan. This option provides favorable rates and payments, making it easier to pay off. If you’ve been out of school long enough to improve your credit score you may be eligible for a more affordable loan, including a low interest rate.
Consider using your local credit union or community bank to refinance or consolidate your student loans. They offer the same financial services as bigger banks, but their focus is providing value to members and their local community.
3. Max out 401(k)
If your employer offers a matching 401(k) contribution plan, consider contributing the maximum amount before the end of the year, especially if your year-end income estimate indicates that you might be in a higher tax bracket in 2015. A last minute contribution can reduce your taxable income.
4. Use Funds in Your Flexible Spending Account
A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) allows an employee to set aside non-taxable money from their earnings that can be used for a variety of expenses, including out-of-pocket healthcare costs. An individual can put up to $2500 a year in the plan but the money generally must be used before the year has ended. If you have unused funds you might want to order new glasses or schedule dental work.
5. Make a Financial Plan for 2015
Creating a simple budget of all monthly expenditures and income makes it easy to see what needs to be cut back on or completely eliminated. Having things listed and organized also makes it easier to remember to make monthly payments in a timely fashion. If at all possible limit your fixed costs to no more than 50 percent of your after-tax cash flow.