Now is a great time to do a check up on your finances. These tips can help you find ways to simplify, save more and update your financial goals. Here's how to get started.
- Gather all your important financial information and documents into a file so you don't have to hunt around when you need them.
- The file should contain the names of your banks, insurance companies, retirement fund, credit card companies and the numbers for all accounts. Make sure to also include your user name and password for online account access.
- If you decide to store this information on your computer or smartphone, make sure it's secure to prevent identity theft.
Find out where your money goes.
- You may be surprised how much you spend on pizza, apps for your phone, or your morning coffee and muffin. Gather your bills for the last six to nine months and break your expenses into three categories: necessities like rent or mortgage, utilities, food, and transportation; things you planned to purchase like a new winter coat or tires; and impulse purchases.
- With that information in hand, make a budget. You can still spend some money on fun things, but take some of the money you've been spending on impulse purchases and put it towards savings or paying down debt instead.
Get the best deal.
- Check the terms and interest rates on your credit cards. Then shop around to see if you can find a better deal to replace high rate, high fee cards.
- Look for better rates on your homeowners or renters and auto insurance. You can also lower your insurance costs by increasing your deductible. Check to see that you have enough coverage if you've made home improvements.
- Review your cable, internet, and cell phone plans and compare them with other providers to see if you can get a lower price or more services for the same price. If you're currently paying for services you don't need or use, ask your provider if you can drop them and lower your bill.
Pay down debt.
- Make a plan to pay down your debt. Consider consolidating higher interest debts at a lower interest rate.
- Make more than your minimum payment each month to pay off balances more quickly.
- Make your payments on time and in full to help strengthen your credit score.
Make banking simpler.
- If you have accounts at more than one bank, you may want to move all your banking to one institution. You may qualify for better interest rates and perks like free online banking and checks and no-interest checking.
- Make saving easier by automatically having money deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your savings account.
- Take advantage of your bank's email or text message alerts to let you know what your balance is, if you're approaching any preset limits on your accounts and to receive fraud alerts.
It's also smart to check your credit report for errors once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. Be sure you use this site. It's the only one that provides a free annual report.