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Don't Let 2009 Be a Wash

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We're at the halfway mark -- so how are your at-work benefits shaping up so far this year?

With six months of earning, saving, and spending under your belt, you have a pretty good idea of how the rest of the year's going to play out. Now's the time to do a little tweaking so you can make the most of what you make for the rest of 2009.

Let's go to the tape ...

Earnings recap
If you earn a steady paycheck (meaning one not dependent on bonuses or fluctuating earnings month-to-month), this is your chance to stop overpaying Uncle Sam -- any more than you already are, that is.

If you got a tax refund last year of more than $1,000 and have made no adjustments to your W-4, and if you don't anticipate any major life changes, then grab your most recent pay stub and last year's income tax return. We're going to head to paycheckcity.com, for guidance on making withholding adjustments. To avoid underpayment penalties, shoot for the number of allowances that satisfies 100% to 110% of the prior year's tax payment -- not counting your refund.

Savings strategies
Check your contribution balances on your at-work savings plan, such as your 401(k) or 403(b), or any profit sharing. At the rate you're going, will you max it out before the first strain of "Auld Lang Syne"?

The 2009 contribution limits for most folks are $16,500, not including any matching contributions your boss kicks in. If you're 50 or older, your contribution limit is $22,000.

It's also time to think about that IRA. If you haven't devoted any money to it yet, start automating this pay-yourself-big-time-in-the-future account and put it out of your mind. You have until the tax due date next April to fund your account. So set aside $555 a month, if you qualify for the maximum contribution limit for '09 of $5,000, or $666 if you're 50 or older to hit the $6,000 savings ceiling. Even if you can't spare that much cash for the next nine months, sock away something. Trust me, you'll thank me in retirement.

Spending rundown
If you signed up for a flexible spending account at work for medical and/or dependent care, start reaping the benefits of paying for necessities with pre-tax dollars. If you haven't already, gather your bills and submit those reimbursement forms. Then project the next six months of spending with what remains so that you're sure to drain the account, since these plans don't allow carry-forwards on unspent money.

Review time well spent
It may be hard to motivate yourself to do a financial checkup with no looming deadlines. But doing so now can spot trouble that is harder to remedy come December.

Consider how much time we devote to other important tasks. According to a recent Guardian Life Insurance Company survey, American workers on average spend 1.4 hours reviewing their benefits, 2.7 hours preparing for Thanksgiving, and nearly five hours on holiday shopping.

If you spend an hour this month doing a midyear financial status report, you'll have more time in December to fight the yuletide shopping crowds.

For more Foolishness:

Dayana Yochim puts the icing on financial advice over at Fool.com. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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