8 Money Moves You Can Make When We Turn the Clocks Back for Fall

By Emily Guy Birken on 23 October 2017 0 comments

It's nearly the end of Daylight Saving Time, which means we're close to one of my favorite days of the year: the Sunday in autumn when we get an extra hour in the day. As a perpetually busy person, I have a tendency to consider the gift of an extra hour in my weekend to be better than Christmas.

Of course, that extra hour is only as valuable as you make it. It can be very easy to fritter away the time on Facebook or on your latest binge-worthy Netflix series — and I have certainly been guilty of wasting my extra time in years past. That's why this year, I'm going to dedicate my extra hour of Daylight Saving Time to making some smart money moves.

Each of the following eight money moves will take you less than an hour, and taking care of one or more of them will help you improve your bottom line without eating into any of your usual time.

1. Set up an automatic transfer to savings

An emergency fund is the cornerstone of good financial health, but it's also the kind of thing that can easily get pushed to the back burner. If you try to find money at the end of the month to put into savings, you'll often discover there's nothing but pocket lint in your checking account, and another month will go by with no deposits into your emergency fund. This is why so many personal finance experts recommend creating an automatic transfer from checking to savings on payday. If you save your money before you have a chance to spend it, then it will actually be there for you in an emergency.

During your extra hour this year, log onto your bank's website and set up your automatic recurring transfer online. Even if you can only afford to transfer $20 each paycheck, your recurring transfers will add up over time. While you're setting up the recurring transfer, set it to automatically increase in three months' time, and again in six months' and nine months' time so that you don't have to think about upping your savings rate again until the end of next year's Daylight Saving Time. (See also: Where to Find Emergency Funds When You Don't Have an Emergency Fund)

2. Bump up your contribution to retirement

November is when many employers are going through their benefit cycles, so now is a great time to amp up your retirement savings. Increasing your contribution to your 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account is of the sort of thing that you never get around to since you have to get in touch with your HR department or otherwise look up how to do it. But contributing as little as an additional 1 percent of your paycheck to your 401(k) or other retirement savings vehicle will add thousands of dollars to your retirement savings. And if you are not already contributing the amount necessary to meet your employer's matching amount, remember that you are leaving free money on the table. Increase your contribution so you can get your employer's matching contribution. (See also: 401(k) or IRA? You Need Both)

3. Adjust your withholding

In 2017, the average American received a federal tax refund of about $2,800 — which basically meant most Americans sent nearly $3,000 on a field trip to the IRS and received no interest when the money came back. While it's always exciting to receive a big check from Uncle Sam in April, you can do more with your money if you keep it in each paycheck rather than send it off as an interest-free loan to the government.

To reduce your tax refund, start with the IRS withholding calculator. This tool will help you determine how many withholding allowances you may take. Your withholding allowances do not determine your tax bill, only how much you pay in taxes per paycheck, so your answers on the calculator can be approximate. Once you have figured out your allowances, request and fill out a W4 form from your employer's HR department.

Spending some of your extra hour doing these calculations will result in fatter paychecks as soon as your HR department files the new paperwork. Not bad for less than hour of truly "free" time.

4. Freeze your credit

The Equifax hack served as an important wake-up call on just how vulnerable our financial information can be. You probably looked into ways to protect yourself when Equifax was dominating the news, but it's understandable if you never got around to actually implementing the necessary work to keep your financial information from ending up in the hands of a scammer.

One of ways you can protect yourself after such a data breach is to freeze your credit. You will pay a small fee, and then no one — including you — can open new credit in your name. The freeze will last indefinitely, so there is no need to remember to renew. The fees range from $5 to $10 per credit bureau, depending on which state you live in. This means you will pay between $15 and $30 to freeze your credit with all three bureaus — although Equifax has currently waived fees for initiating a credit freeze. In addition, if you have ever been the victim of identity theft, the fee for freezing your credit report is waived.

You will need to call the credit reporting companies to place a freeze on your file. Here are the numbers to call:

  • Equifax: 800-685-1111 (NY residents: 800-349-9960)

  • Experian: 888-397-3742

  • TransUnion: 888-909-8872

Once your credit is frozen, you will have to temporarily lift the freeze if you want to purchase a new car or home or otherwise open up your credit. For instance, if you are leasing a car, you can ask the dealership which credit reporting company they're going to use to access your report, and simply lift the freeze at that company. It takes no more than three days to lift a freeze for this purpose.

Spending time on the phone with a credit reporting agency is no one's idea of fun, but using your extra hour to do this means you don't have to carve out time elsewhere in your schedule. (See also: How to Protect Your Credit After the Equifax Breach)

5. Check your credit report

In addition to freezing your credit, don't forget to take a gander at what's on your credit report. You are legally allowed free access to credit reports from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax once a year, and your extra hour is an excellent time to look them up.

To do so, just log onto annualcreditreport.com for access your credit information. Getting your report will take just a few moments — you just need to fill out one form to request up to three credit reports (one from each agency), pick which agency's report you want to look at, and verify your identity to receive your credit report.

While printing out your reports will take next to no time, be sure to use the rest of your hour to go over the reports in detail to make sure there are no errors. (See also: How to Read a Credit Report)

6. Set up overdraft alerts

Overdrawing your checking account is one of those easy-to-do mistakes that can cost you big-time. Your bank might offer you "overdraft protection" that allows you to continue to make purchases while you are in the red, but the accompanying overdraft fees can be a serious budget-killer.

So while you're enjoying your extra hour, log onto your bank account and sign up for overdraft alerts. With these alerts, you'll get a text or email when your account balance dips below a certain level, keeping you from feeling the sting of overdraft fees.

7. Use up your excess FSA funds at the FSA store

Setting money aside in your flexible spending account is an excellent way to earmark funds for medical and other health costs throughout the year, but FSA money is use-it-or-lose-it, which means that at this point in the year, you might have a hefty amount of money you're in danger of losing.

Instead of just giving up money that will be left unused, you can spend some of your remaining FSA dollars at fsastore.com, an online marketplace for sunscreen, contact lenses, bandages, and other health-related items that you are allowed to use your FSA money to buy. Of course, you can spend it just as readily at your local pharmacy, too.

8. Update your beneficiaries

Do you know who your beneficiary is for your life insurance and other financial accounts? If you haven't checked the paperwork in a few years, you might find that you have an out-of-date beneficiary listed.

For instance, when my sister first started her career, she named me as her life insurance and retirement account beneficiary. Since that time, my sister has gotten married and gave birth to my niece, which means it would be completely inappropriate for me to still be her beneficiary. Because these policies can often last for decades, many people forget to update their beneficiaries even as their lives change.

Take your extra hour to look up your life insurance and other financial paperwork to make sure your beneficiaries are up-to-date and you're no longer leaving your life insurance money to that ex you were engaged to 15 years ago.

An extra hour of financial productivity

We all love having an extra hour of the weekend when Daylight Saving Time ends, but you can make that hour even more valuable by using it to make great financial choices. You'll be glad you did.

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