How to keep your financial house in order during the holidays

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How to keep your financial house in order during the holidays

Welcome to the holiday rush. You've now got a few weeks to buy presents, trim your tree, attend school fundraisers or festivities, plan your parties and, you know, not blow a giant hole in your bank account.

Here's how to keep your financial house in order during the most wonderful (and chaotic) time of the year.

1. Set up spend alerts

Most banks, if prompted, send texts or emails to account holders when funds get too low or credit balances climb too high. You can also set up alerts for when charges hit your account. Sounds dramatic, for sure, but (a) it'll keep you on top of how much money you're spending on gifts and (b) it'll help you spot card fraud, which spikes during the holidays.

2. Fill out that life insurance application

The holidays are all about family, so, chances are, at some point during the season, probably when you're on that flight to Great-Grandma's house, you'll realize you need life insurance. It's tempting to put off everything until January, but life insurance is worth getting a jump on.

For starters, rates go up alongside your age and, if you kick the can further down the road or, even, have a birthday in December, the wait can cost you. Plus, while getting coverage has gotten easier (Policygenius can help you compare life insurance quotes online), policies can still take up to four weeks to get approved. You started shopping for gifts early to beat the crowds, so you might as well beat the January life insurance shopping rush, too.

3. Get receipts

That's for gifts (in case someone has to return them) and charitable donations (for tax season ... which is right around the corner).

4. Spend the money in your FSA

If you use a tax-deferred flexible spending account (FSA) to help with medical expenses, check the balance. Employer-sponsored FSAs are generally "use it or lose it" at the end of the tax year. Be sure to fill prescriptions or otherwise put the funds to good use before time runs out.

5. Avoid a tougher tax season

W-2s are coming. Make sure your current or old employers have the correct address on file, so you're not tracking down important paperwork come April. And, if interested, sign off on electronic delivery. Most employers offer digital access to your W-2, but they'll need your consent to provide it. Check with human resources on how to give the go-ahead.

6. Monitor your credit

Bank alerts help you spot card fraud, but there are other ways thieves can leverage all the personal information they pilfered this year (cough, cough, Equifax). Take a look at your credit reports for any accounts you don't recognize. You can get a free copy every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com.

There are also ways to watch your credit score for signs something's amiss. Quite a few credit card issuers and websites let your check your credit each month for free. And, if you have credit monitoring or identity theft insurance, chances are, that service furnishes credit scores and credit report highlights on the reg as well. We've got more on spotting identity theft here.

Already seeing seasonal red? No worries. Here are some strategies to hack your holiday debt.

Image: PeopleImages