Counting on that year-end bonus? Don't.

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As the end of the year approaches, many professionals spend a little bit of time thinking about how they'll spend that year-end bonus. The smart ones are thinking carefully about what to do with the money. The dumb ones have already spent it (using credit cards or loans to aid in the indulgence) and are just waiting to get their hands on the money to pay off their goodies.

But this year the bonuses are likely to be much smaller, and some employees won't get any bonuses at all. Wall Street is feeling the pinch of smaller bonuses, just like the rest of America. But I can't feel too horrible about an executive at a poorly performing company not receiving a bonus. Those who had a hand in our current economic turmoil probably don't deserve any bonuses anyway. It's hard to feel sorry for an investment banker who lost lots of money for a company "only" getting paid $1 million this year.

What's the moral of the story for employees at all levels of a company? Don't spend your bonus or raise before you actually get the money. The economy is too shaky to create an unnecessary debt load for yourself, praying that your bonus will be enough to pay it off in a few months. It's better to wait and see how much you actually get before you spend it. (And you might even consider just saving that money once you get it. It's never a mistake to have a little extra money set aside for emergencies.)

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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