Fall officially started Sept. 22, meaning Halloween candy is on many displays at your local stores. It also means that the kids are fully back in the school routine, and you can redirect your attention to your money issues — before the onslaught of the holiday season sucks you in.
To help, here are five financial pitfalls to avoid before the end of the year.
DON'T DELAY FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is now available for the 2019-20 academic year. This important document determines how much money students and their families get for college — including grants, scholarships and loans. In addition to a new website that works better when viewed on a phone, there is also a new mobile MyStudentAid app. Although the deadline for federal aid is not until June 30, your state and school may have earlier ones.
For some, it's as soon as possible after Oct. 1, which means they have a limited pool of funds that could run out. If you want to maximize your potential aid, submit a FAFSA ASAP.
If your kids are not old enough to apply, talk to them about college financing. According to Fidelity Investments' 2018 College Savings Indicator Study, a whopping 40 percent of parents with sophomores or older haven't discussed with their kids whether they're expected to contribute to college savings and 43 percent have not discussed how much education debt they may incur.
AVOID APRIL 15 SURPRISE
Check to see how much money you have withheld from your income for tax purposes, then go to the IRS website to see if the amount is sufficient to cover your needs. You may want to check in with a tax preparer or CPA to determine if you need to change course before the end of the year. A corollary for any taxpayers who filed for an extension — although you already estimated how much money you owed Uncle Sam, your Oct. 15 drop-dead date to file is just around the corner.
DON'T BLOW OFF OPEN ENROLLMENT
Whether you work for a company, rely on the Affordable Care Act for health insurance or are retired and use Medicare, this is the time of year when you have new options. Many simply do whatever they have done last year, but this could be a mistake.
Before the pressure of a deadline looms, review your plan, what you spent during the year and consider what could be likely in 2019.
DON'T GUESS ON RETIREMENT
About half of workers who are 55 and older have not attempted to calculate how much they'll need to live a comfortable retirement. It's pretty hard to reach a goal if you don't know where you stand today. There are so many tools that can help with the process, but if you are at a loss, seek professional guidance.
EVALUATE YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISER
This week marks World Financial Planning Day — a good opportunity to find out whether your financial planner/adviser/consultant/sales representative puts your interests first at all times. In other words, does he or she adhere to the fiduciary standard?
There has been a great deal of confusion around this topic, but certain designations require that its professionals act in the best interest of the client at all times. Those include CPAs, chartered financial analysts and, as of Oct. 1, 2019, certified financial planners will be bound by new standards, which will expand the scope of the fiduciary standard.