Lose weight; exercise more; eat healthier. These decrees are always among the top New Year's resolutions. But as you resolve to make some changes in 2014, do not forget about improving your financial health. After all, getting your finances in order can alleviate stress and help you feel better both mentally and physically. Plan to take action on these five money resolutions. You will be sure to finish 2014 on better financial footing than when you started.
Live within your means. If you do not already follow a budget (one that tracks money flow in and out each month), make that your top 2014 priority. A budget will give you a clear picture of how much money you have to spend each month, and on what. It helps you see where spending cuts need to be made. Being financially responsible also means saving for large purchases instead of putting them on credit. While you are at it, now is a good time to remind yourself that you do not have to keep up with the Joneses, drive the fanciest car or own the latest smartphone. If it is not part of your budget, learn to adjust and do without it.
Review finances monthly. Setting and following a budget are great first steps. To stick to it, sit down once a month (with spouse/partner and family as applicable) to review where your money is going and to anticipate any upcoming large expenses. These conversations ensure that everyone in the family is working toward the same financial goals. Treat these monthly sessions as you would a doctor's appointment. You should feel obligated to keep the appointment with your budget.
Manage debt. One of the most commonly broken resolutions involves getting out of debt. This is not surprising, given that the average American household that carries credit card debt owes close to $15,000, in addition to a mortgage or rent, car payments and student loans. If wiping out all debt in one year's time seems unattainable, start with a few key steps (like creating a budget and cutting expenses). With these steps, you might aim to pay off a set goal, such as a certain percent of your total debt, by the end of 2014.
Curb credit usage. The only way to make headway on a resolution to get out of debt is by using credit more wisely. This means not buying items on credit that you cannot afford or that are not part of your budget, maxing out credit cards, paying sky-high interest rates or missing payments. Always make at least the minimum payment, and always do so on time. If you already owe significant credit card debt, you may be able to contact your creditors to try negotiating lower interest rates or looking into transfering balances to a 0 percent interest card. For serious debt, firms that offer debt resolution, or settlement, may be helpful.
Check your credit report. More than a quarter of consumers have errors on their credit reports, according to a Federal Trade Commission study released in 2013. Errors can negatively affect your credit score. Everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). If you did not take advantage of this in 2013, do so now. Visit Annual Credit Report to request your credit reports. Review them carefully for errors including personal information (names, addresses, Social Security number) and credit history. If you find an error, follow the directions on the credit bureaus' websites to request that the item be corrected or removed. You can find a sample dispute letter on the FTC's website. In the FTC report, more than 10 percent of consumers saw positive changes in their credit reports after errors were corrected.
As with most change, you are more likely to be successful when you start with manageable small steps. Monitor your progress each month. It will be motivating to watch your debt get smaller. Make it a goal to be better off fiscally at the end of 2014 then when you started, and you will have a successful year.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
The information contained on or provided through this site is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional financial or accounting advice. Always seek the advice of your accountant or other qualified personal finance advisor for answers to any related questions you may have. Use of this site and any information contained on or provided through this site is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
320 Division Street
P.O. Box 1490
Lake Charles, LA 70601/70602