April is crunch time for filing your taxes, but after you’ve checked that off your list, keep the momentum going by turning your attention to other financial goals. Now that the days are getting longer, you may find that you have more time to focus on accomplishing those tasks as well.
Here's what you should have on your financial to-do list this month:
1. Allocate Your Tax Refund
If you haven’t submitted your tax return or filed for an extension, now is the time to do it. If you owe more taxes than you can afford, the IRS offers various repayment plans to help you shoulder the burden.
Assuming you are getting a refund, or recently received it, this is a good time to figure out what to do with it. Focus on one or more of the following strategies to help you get closer to your current financial goals:
- Pay off credit card debt. If paying off debt is high on your financial to-do list, use your tax refund to put a significant dent in the balance or pay it off completely.
- Pad your savings account. It’s a good idea to keep a cash cushion in your savings account in case you encounter a large, unexpected expense. Now that interest rates are on the rise, you might even be able to earn a bit more on that money.
- Maximize retirement savings. You have until April 18 this year to make a 2016 IRA contribution of up to $5,500 (or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older). If you’ve already hit that amount, use your tax refund to get started on your 2017 IRA contribution.
- Buy a big-ticket item on deep discount. If you need to invest in a new lawn mower, gas grill, or home remodeling project, you’ll find plenty of good deals in April.
2. List Your Home, If You Plan to Sell
March, April, and July are the three most common months for new real estate listings, so if you’ve been thinking of selling, you might want to reach out to your real estate agent sooner rather than later.
As of January, home prices have recovered in many metropolitan areas, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index. But the inventory of for-sale homes hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand. "Newly listed properties are being snatched up quickly so far this year and leaving behind minimal choices for buyers trying to reach the market,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.
3. Start Booking Summer Travel Plans
Hopefully you’ve saved enough to cover the cost of your chosen summer vacation destination. Because airfare and hotel prices tend to rise the closer we get to Memorial Day, now is a good time to start looking for deals in earnest. If you find a price that fits your budget, go ahead and book the ticket. Same goes for accommodations, just watch out for hidden hotel fees.
Check out our airline travel buying guide to make sure you get the best value for your summer travel plans. If you’re planning to take a road trip, or need to buy new luggage, our travel and vacation guide has you covered.
4. Review Your Estate Planning Documents
Now that you’ve finished poring over your financial documents for tax time, you might as well check another administrative task of your financial to-do list: updating your estate plan.
More than half of Americans do not have a will, according to the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. Even if you do have one, it may need to be updated if you’ve had a new child since you wrote your will or if you've gone through a divorce.
An important first step is to make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date on retirement, investment, and applicable bank accounts, as well as life insurance policies. Then move on to creating a will and filling out healthcare proxy, powers of attorney, and other necessary forms. If your needs are simple, you may be able to use an online DIY service like Quicken WillMaker Plus. It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer review any documents you prepare yourself.
5. Master the Basics of Money Management
When it comes to financial literacy, Americans aren’t exactly passing with flying colors. The average score on the National Financial Capability Test is 63 percent, with only 48 percent of people passing the 30-question quiz.
April is also financial literacy month, so it’s a great time to put your own knowledge to the test. If you find that you have a lot to learn, set aside time to take an online money course or two, like the ones offered by Khan Academy. Understanding topics like compounding interest can come in handy, whether you’re choosing the best bank for your savings or deciding how to pay off your credit cards. You’ll find courses on topics ranging from real estate to investing, all available free.
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