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Use holiday stretch to make 2013 better

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM

Everyone is waiting for the fiscal cliff problem to be solved — or to see what happens if we don’t solve it and face higher taxes and government spending cuts. There’s nothing you can do about that. But don’t let that anxiety paralyze you and keep you from making sensible plans for the New Year.

This is the week to get going — the “gap week” between the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, when you fall into a turkey-and-football stupor and lounge on the couch testing out your new consumer electronics. If you waste this week, though, you’re making a big mistake. You could instead be getting organized for the New Year — and getting a head start on financial success. Here are some tips:

Organize your checkbook: Of course, you may not use a checkbook anymore, preferring to do all your banking online. But this is the moment to go over your check payments for the year and figure out which are tax deductible for your 2012 return. You may have written checks to charities, or to pay for business expenses and travel. Get it sorted out now. Or better yet, download the latest version of Quicken from Download your entire year’s checking activity into the program with the stroke of a key — and you’ll be able to categorize all your spending, including tax deductible items. And tax-time will be a lot less harried if you organize now, and set up a folder for the year-end statements and 1099 notices of income from your bank accounts and brokerage accounts, as well as your W-2 from your employer.

Check your insurance policies: Your agent is either on vacation — or sitting waiting for your call! This is a perfect time to see if you have enough homeowner’s or auto coverage, and at the best prices. Have you “scheduled” all valuable items, those that need separate and higher insurance than your basic homeowner’s policy will cover? Review your life insurance and disability insurance, too. For a moment consider the worst possibilities — and plan ahead

Evaluate your investments — especially your 40l(k): How did your investments perform? You might want to make some changes for the year ahead. There are no tax considerations for investments within your retirement plan. But your decisions do impact your ability to retire on schedule. Need help that’s not available from your company plan? At, there is a free link to, for advice in allocating your retirement investments. Most of the Fortune 100 companies offer this service to their employees. Now you can gain access to their service for a year by clicking on the link on my website.

Plan for ‘what if’: As we look forward to the New Year, it’s always with the anticipation of better things to come. But just in case, you should be organized for the unexpected. Would your family know where your important papers are in case of emergency? Or an unexpected death? Who has the deed to the cemetery plot, and knows where you keep your will or estate plan? This is the perfect time to sit down and write it down. And at you can click on the yellow box to receive a link to my Personal Financial Organizer — the perfect way to make sure you’ve covered all the bases. By return email, you’ll receive the link that allows you to print out as many copies as you need, so you can share this good idea with friends and family.

See, this long week between holidays is not just for eating and football and parties. It’s your chance to get a good start on the year ahead. And that’s the Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is the Chicago Sun-Times’ nationally syndicated financial columnist, and a registered investment adviser.

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