Welcome to February—it's one month closer to spring, but there are still plenty of cold winter days ahead. That makes it the perfect month to stay inside and get your financial house in order.

Our financial to-do list can help. Here are some steps you can take this month:

Get a Jump on Your Taxes

The IRS began accepting tax returns on Jan. 29, marking the official start of the tax season. In general, tax experts say it’s a good idea to file your taxes early. That way, if you’re owed a refund, you’ll receive it faster and you can put it to work sooner. 

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Filing early can be a good idea even if you owe money to the IRS. That's because the amount you owe isn’t due until April 17 this year, regardless of when you submit your return. So by filing early you give yourself more time to figure out how to pay the amount you owe. 

If you’re planning to do your own taxes, check our online tax preparation comparison, which measures ease of use and other features. Make sure you buy your tax preparation software early, because prices tend to rise as the tax deadline approaches.  

If you will be hiring a tax preparer, do so as soon as possible. Tax preparers get busier and more difficult to contract the longer you wait. You may also qualify for free tax help if your household income was low to moderate for your community last year, or if you're at least 50 years old. 

Keep in mind that when the new tax law went into effect, the tax withholding rules changed. So be sure to check your pay stub to make sure the withholding amount is correct.

A good resource for this is the IRS’ online withholding calculator, which will be ready to use in mid-February, the agency says. Taxpayers will be able to use it to determine their proper withholding allowance. (You don't have to input personal information such as your name or Social Security number, though you'll have to input your income and some other particulars.)

You may want to avoid calling the IRS this year. The agency lacks staff and resources to assist confused taxpayers. But there are other ways to get answers

Apply for Federal Student Aid

Students headed to college this fall who haven’t filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid might want to complete it soon. Applications for the 2018 school year have been flowing in since October 2017. In several states, aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis, and some colleges give priority to early filers.

You can read more from Consumer Reports about filing the FAFSA for 2018 here.

Get a Free Credit Report

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.

We suggest you order one credit report from a different major credit bureau each quarter, which allows you to take a peek at your credit files several times a year, free. The bureaus don’t collect exactly the same information, so getting one from each gives you a more complete picture of your credit history. To order your first free report in 2018, go to annualcreditreport.com.

Check Your Property Tax Assessment

February is the deadline for property tax appeals in some cities. If your property has recently been reassessed and you disagree with the result, you may have a limited number of days to appeal. Find out when you can file a grievance; forms and procedure information should be available on the website of your town's tax assessor's office.

You can determine how much your home is worth by using current home-sales data to compare the assessed value with those of six or more similar houses in your town. Another option is to pay for an appraisal. If you think your house has been assessed at least 10 percent too high, appeal to the tax assessor's office.

A word of advice: Before filing a formal request for an appeal, meet with your town's assessor. Explain how you came to your conclusion and provide five to 10 property comps to strengthen your case. You should also find out how the assessor arrived at his or her assessment. You may be able to resolve your differences before going through the appeals process.

If you decide to file an appeal, don't jump at tax-cut solicitations that offer to file an appeal for you for a fee. They might not be as thorough because they don't know your property as well as you do. If you do use a third party, make sure you understand the payment structure, which might involve a one-time fee, a contingency fee, or both. Check with the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general's office for any complaints.

Pay your tax bill if it's due while your appeal is in process. If you win, you can get a retroactive refund or credit.

Buy Products on Deep Discount

Consumer Reports' product-research experts, who track prices all year long, have compiled a list of items that are usually at their lowest price in February. If you're shopping for the best deals this month, look for sales on mattresses, humidifiers, snow blowers, and interior paint.