10 money moves you can make during commercials

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Making smart year-end moves doesn’t require a lot of time. In fact, you can give yourself a year-end review and makeover during commercial breaks while you’re watching TV.

The presents have been unwrapped; the tree may even be down. We are now mere days away from the start of a new year — a clean slate, a fresh start, a … well, pick your own metaphor.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is major downtime for many people. The holiday parties are generally over, and you may have taken a couple extra days off work with nothing to do.

Of course, you want to enjoy those down days, but don’t squander all that free time either. Here are 10 smart money moves you can get done all in the course of watching your favorite shows on TV.

1. Change passwords

In between trolling online stores for after-Christmas sales, make a point to update all your passwords for next year, especially those for bank, credit card and other sensitive accounts.

You could use a notebook and pen to record your new passwords, but a much better idea is using one of the numerous free password manager programs available. Most will generate and store strong passwords for you. You only have to remember one.

You can read reviews and download programs at CNET.

2. Request a free credit report

Another quick and easy money move is to get your free annual credit report. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies every year. Download one during a commercial break and review it for mistakes or suspicious activity.

Make sure you are requesting your reports from AnnualCreditReport.c​om, which is the only website authorized under the law to provide free credit reports. Other websites might send you reports but there’s usually a catch. For example, the site might automatically enroll you in a credit monitoring service or some other subscription program. 

3. Review your FSA balance

A new rule now permits employers to let flexible spending account participants roll over up to $500 to the next year.From the Treasury Department’s press release:

For nearly 30 years, employees eligible for health FSAs have been subject to the use-or-lose rule, meaning that any account balances remaining unused at the end of the year are forfeited. An estimated 14 million families participate in health FSAs. Under current law, plan sponsors have the option of allowing employees a grace period permitting them to use amounts remaining unused at the end of a year to pay qualified FSA expenses incurred for up to 2½ months following year-end.
Today’s guidance permits employers to now allow employees to carry over up to $500 of the unused amounts left in their health FSAs for expenses in the next year.

Note, however, that employers aren’t required to offer a grace period or a rollover. So now’s the time to find out your employer’s policy. If they’re not participating in either option, use a commercial break to go shopping. Spend that money on qualified expenses by doing things like refilling prescriptions or maybe buying new glasses online.

4. Complete an investment review

Sound time-consuming? Not really. You can do an investment review in 15 minutes or less with these steps. In a nutshell, you want to check your investment performance, review your fees, and reallocate balances if needed.

While looking over and understanding your investments may seem boring, it’s exciting compared with the commercials you’ll be missing.

5. Sell losses to offset gains

While you have your investments in front of you, look for losers and consider unloading them. Selling a stock or other security at a loss can offset investment gains you’ve taken during the year, thus lowering your tax bill.

If you don’t have gains, losses can also be used against up to $3,000 of your regular income. Net losses exceeding $3,000 will be carried over to future years.

Two caveats:

  • Losses in tax-advantaged retirement accounts, like an IRA or 401k, aren’t deductible.
  • You can’t game the system by selling a stock at a loss, then buying it back a few minutes or days later. For an investment loss to be deductible, you can’t purchase a substantially identical security within 30 days before or after a sale.

Confused? Check out “Sales and Trades of Investment Property” from the IRS. Warning, however: Like all IRS publications, it’s going to take more than one commercial break to understand.

6. Scan and shred paperwork

Have a teen in the house? Let them scan in the mess of paperwork you’ve been hoarding all year and then shred the originals (unless they’re the kind of documents you need to keep). If that doesn’t sound like fun to them, you could always pay a few bucks or tell them it’s a belated Christmas gift to make up for the one they forgot to buy you.

For those of you who are childless, never fear. This is a rather mindless year-end task that can be easily accomplished during an “It’s A Wonderful Life” marathon.

7. Make a will

This may not seem like a quick and easy money move, but if you have a simple estate, there’s no reason to make things complicated. Search online for “will template” and your state and you’ll find all sorts of fill-in-the-blank wills that can be downloaded free. If you don’t have a will, these will do for now.

If that doesn’t sound like an adequate long-term solution, you can always have your Internet will reviewed by an estate attorney later. But even a cheap Internet will you prepare during a commercial break is better than none.

Read more: 10 money moves you can make during commercials

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