Remember that New Year’s resolution to be smarter with your money? Maybe you wanted to pay down debt, save for a down payment on a home, or build your emergency savings fund. The half-year mark is the perfect time to evaluate how you are doing. If you have fallen off track, you still can make adjustments so that you reach your financial goals when 2015 rolls around. Assess these money matters today.
1.Review your budget. Hopefully, you have been evaluating your cash flow on a monthly basis. Money-tracking software like Mint.com makes it easier to see where your money is going. If you have become lax about keeping on top of this, invest some time in making sure that all of your balances are current, including checking, savings, retirement funds and emergency funds. Next, look at your expenses, including short-term debt like credit cards and longer-term debt, such as a home mortgage. If you have more money going out than coming in, it is time to reassess your spending, look into increasing income, and possibly consider professional debt relief options.
2.Scrutinize your savings. At the beginning of each year, you should write down a savings goal to achieve by year’s end. This includes making sure you have at least six-nine months’ worth of living expenses set aside in an emergency savings fund to cover unexpected events like a medical crisis, job loss or costly car repairs. Now, at the mid-point of the year, you can see whether you are on track to reach those numbers. If not, determine where, and how much, you can cut back to achieve your goal in six months. Of, if you find that you have more available disposable income than expected, now is the time to create a greater financial cushion.
3.Request a credit report. Every major credit reporting agency offers a single free credit report each year. You can request yours via AnnualCreditReport.com. The basic information in each report about your debt load should be similar. Request one report now and review it carefully for errors. You can request the other two at the end of the year or anytime you want to make sure your credit is in good standing.
4.Be on time. If you are struggling to make payments on time, set up automatic payments or sign up for email reminders when bills are due. Paying on time will help avoid late fees or higher interest-rate penalties – and up your credit score.
5.Be a smart employee. Check the balances of your retirement accounts and determine if you can increase your contributions. If you signed up for an employer-sponsored flexible spending account for medical or dependent care, gather those bills and fill out the reimbursement forms. Then project the next six months of spending. Many plans do not allow you to carry over unspent funds, so now is the time to plan in order to use all of your contributions. Finally, take a look at last year’s tax return and your most recent pay stub. Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine how much you might owe in taxes this year. Update your withholdings as needed so you are not surprised by a big tax bill come April.
6.Audit your insurance needs.Do an insurance inventory to see that your home, property, automobiles, jewelry and other valuables are properly protected. Rates can creep up over the years, so you may find that you can get the same or better coverage for less by switching insurers. You should be able to get a prorated refund when you switch policies.
Conducting a mid-year review is a great way to identify potential financial problem areas. Also, make a calendar note today to assess your accomplishments and define new fiscal goals in December for 2015. Remember, the best way to achieve monetary goals, get out of debt and stay out of debt is to treat money matters as a top priority all year long.
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