Consumer Law

End of Year and New Year: Top 10 Things to Do Now

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Everyone's busy all year long. There's work, school, and kids' sports. Tack on summer vacation and the holidays at the end of the year, and you have even more to do. It's easy to forget about taking care of some things that really need to be done each year. Taking some time to do them now can save you and your family time and headaches later.

1. Review and Update Your Will

You should look over your will each year to make sure it's up-to-date. The laws don't automatically add people to your will or automatically remove them, either. Did you get married this year? Divorced? Did you have a baby or adopt? Are your children now young adults? Your will needs to be updated for these and other life events.

While you're at it, check your powers of attorney, too. Make sure the person you've named to take care of your affairs (your "attorney in fact") is still willing and able to do so. If not, you need to make a new power of attorney.

Don't have a will or any other estate planning tools? Get them. You can find everything you need at Whether you're married or single, a good place to start is a planning worksheet. If you have questions or concerns, talk to an attorney.

And don't forget about your digital assets, like online bank accounts and passwords to social media and other web sites. Make a list of them and keep them in a safe or safety deposit box with your other important papers.

2. Insurance

There are all kinds of insurance matters to take care of:

  • Homeowner's and Renter's insurance. Did you make any improvements to you home, like remodel a kitchen or finish your basement? Did you buy a new TV? Check to make sure that your homeowner's or renter's insurance covers them
  • Car insurance. In most states, it's illegal to drive without auto insurance. You don't want to be over insured, though. You can save a few dollars over the year by reducing your coverage on an older car or one that's been paid off. You can also save some money by increasing the amount of your deductible - the amount you have to pay when you make a claim against your policy
  • Life and health insurance. Do you have enough life insurance to take care of your family in case something happens to you? Talk to your insurance agent about your new baby or a change in your marital status. The same thing goes for health insurance. Talk to your human resources professional at work or your agent about changing your coverage

3. Start Getting Ready for the IRS

It's never too early to start gathering receipts and other documents for next year's taxes. Most employers send out W-2's or "earnings statements" before January 31st, so if you're ready before then, you can file fast and get your refund early.

Preparation is crucial especially if you itemize deductions, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, mortgage interest and expenses related to your child's college education. You'll want to gather your paid medical bills, billing statements from schools, prescription receipts and receipts for cash donations you made to your church or favorite charities.

4. Credit Reports

Each year you're entitled to one free report from each of the major reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Get and read them carefully. Any errors, like credit accounts that you didn't open, should be reported to the agency in writing. The agency will investigate the matter, usually within 30 days, and will let you know how the matter was resolved.

With identity theft so common today, it's a good idea to take advantage of the free credit reports each and every year.

5. Credit Cards

Check the terms of your credit cards. Rearrange your budget and try to pay-off your cards in full. At the very least, shop around for a credit card with a lower rate and see if you can transfer the balance to the new card. This could save you thousands of dollars in interest.

6. Licenses, Permits and Leases

Practically all of these important documents have expiration dates. Here are few to keep in mind:

  • Driver's license. These usually expire every few years on your birthday, so check the date on yours. Driving with an expired license may lead to points against your license and higher insurance rates
  • Business license and permits. Many professions and trades require you to have a license. Attorneys, electricians and plumbers usually need one. Bars and restaurants typically need a permit to sell liquor or sell food. Check the expiration date. Don't practice your trade or profession on an expired license. You may have to pay fine, and you may even be barred from practicing for a period of time
  • Leases. As the expiration date on your home or apartment lease nears, contact your landlord to see if a rent increase is planned for the next lease term and try to negotiate. As a car renter, you should check the mileage to see if you're in danger of going over the number of miles given by the lease. Consider asking the dealer to sell you extra miles, or perhaps take an early trade-in if you're near the limit

7. In the US on a Visa?

Be certain to check the expiration date on your visa if you're in the US temporarily. Start the renewal process early because it could take some time. You may be deported for being in the US after your visa expires, and you may not be able to return to the US for a period of time. Contact the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office if you have any questions.

8. Computer Security

It's always a good idea to keep your computer's security settings and software up-to-date. Shopping online, using a software program to prepare your taxes and online banking makes your computer a treasure trove of valuable information. Be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to your personal information and identity theft. Once the hackers or scammers have your information, it's too late.

Learn how to protect yourself from viruses, phishing attacks, scams and even exposing you and your family to legal risks from participating in social networking.

9. What about the Kids?

New technologies come out everyday it seems, like smarter, faster computers, hand-held-devices and cell phones, to name a few. You may or may not pay much attention to these things, but your children almost certainly do. If any of these items are on a gift list, start looking into security and protection for their computer and cell-phone usage.

And if you don't already do so, maybe it's time to monitor your kids' computer and cell phone activities. Don't think of it as an invasion of privacy. Rather, think of it as protecting them from the bad things that you know are out there.

10. Get a Check-Up on Your Health & Records

It's a good idea to see your family doctor at least once a year for a regular check-up. While you're at it, take care of some other health-related matters, such as getting a copy of your medical records, asking your doctor about how your electronic medical records are kept safe and making sure your living will and health care power of attorney are in order.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is the will I prepared online good in all states?
  • We're adopting a child right now, but it won't become final until January of next year. Can we take the tax deduction for adoption expenses on this year's income tax return, or do we need to wait until next year?
  • My credit card company wants to raise my interest rate. I've been told I can "opt out" and account will be closed, but will I have to pay the entire balance as soon as I opt out? Will opting out hurt my credit rating?
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