To be sure, credit card debt typically climbs during the gift-giving season and generosity is top of mind, which often obscures the big-picture agenda. "That's when most charitable conversations happen and people are making New Year's resolutions, so they're not necessarily making the right hard choices about their financial future," Siman said.
Clients may be less inclined, for example, to increase their retirement-plan contributions when their debt level is artificially high. "It's always a good idea when you're doing a financial audit to examine how much risk you need to take to get where you're trying to go, which is a big-picture conversation," Siman said. "It's strategic and long-term, which is why I think it belongs in January."
Those contemplating a different retirement date and those who experienced a change in their annual income are the leading candidates for a financial makeover, said T. Michelle Jones, a certified financial planner with Bryn Mawr Trust.
Some of her clients inherited wealth, sold a business or exercised stock options this year, enabling them to move their target retirement date closer. Others experienced unemployment or accepted a lower-paying job, which may require them to invest more aggressively to achieve the same returns.