Whether you made money goals for 2015 or not, now’s the time to consider your financial habits and improve them for the new year. From taxes to savings habits, you can do a lot to get a better grasp on your money. Here are a few tips.
Gather bank account statements for the last few months to see how much you’re saving monthly. If you’re not able to save a percentage of your income for retirement and other savings goals, determine why and see where you can spend less.
Once you check bank statements, plan how much you want to spend next month on certain expenses, such as groceries, transportation and shopping. Some financial institutions, such as Reading Cooperative Bank, offer mobile banking apps that can take the drudgery out of that chore by automatically categorizing your spending and helping you budget your finances.
The amount you need to save for retirement or for your children’s education depends on your particular situation. Long-term savings accounts, such as traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts and Coverdell accounts for educational expenses can be key tools, but it helps to know whether your long-term goals are realistic. To be totally sure that what you’ve saved so far and what you’re putting away each year is enough, consider consulting a financial planning professional if your bank offers that service.
Along with making sure that your savings are on track, you’ll also want to make sure that your credit is in good shape, too. Your credit is a major factor in whether you can qualify for home or auto loans at low rates. Lenders consider high credit scores, such as 720 and above, as proof that you can handle loans responsibly.
Look at both your credit report and credit score to get a full picture of your borrowing history and creditworthiness. You’re entitled to get one free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus annually. The report is available at annualcreditreport.com and at the websites of Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can also get your credit score on the three companies’ sites for a small fee.
If you have debts from multiple credit cards and other loans, pay all the minimum payments, at least. Then focus on cutting down those debts, starting with those carrying the highest interest rates. This strategy can help you build up your credit and move toward being debt-free faster.
In paying off debts, see whether any of your rewards credit cards have annual fees. About 31% of Americans with such cards don’t know how much the annual fees really cost them, according to a NerdWallet study on rewards cards. On average, spending around $5,000 per card each year, based on the average annual fees and reward points, is enough to break even. Of course, some cards with rewards don’t have this fee, but if you have any that do, see whether you spend enough to warrant the fee.
Prepare for the year ahead by reviewing your goals and finances to better understand how you’re doing. Once you know, you can set yourself up for better money management in the future.
Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet
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