For many, New Year’s Day is time to take stock in the year that was and focus on how to make the coming 12 months even better. One way to do that is take a few minutes from the day and examine your finances. Here are five tips that can help you do the most to ensure a happier financial new year.
1. Make a Plan Pay Down Debt
If you’re among those carrying a balance on your credit cards, you may want to increase the amount you pay each month — especially if you’re only paying the minimum amount due. Credit card interest can add up quickly.For example, if you’re carrying a $5,000 balance on a credit card with a 16% annual rate and make only the minimum payment required to get out of debt eventually ($117 in this case), you will be debt-free in April 2021, paying $7,541 over the life of the debt. But by kicking in an additional $25 a month to that payment, you can be debt-free 1 year and 4 months earlier and pay roughly $750 less in interest (a total of $6,802 vs. the aforementioned $7,541). You can see how your current credit balances are affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary updated every 14 days on Credit.com.
2. Review Your Retirement Savings Plan
If you have a 401(k) plan through your employer, consider increasing the percentage of your income you’re setting aside each pay period — especially if you recently received a raise. A 1% increase could help speed you toward your savings goal, and you won’t likely miss the funds. Also, take a look at how your funds are invested. If they’re in mutual funds with a high expense ratio, consider a lower cost option, such as an index fund or target date fund. If your employer doesn’t sponsor a 401(k) plan, consider opening a traditional or Roth IRA through a low cost provider. If you contribute to a traditional IRA before April 15, you may be able to deduct the amount of the contribution from your 2015 taxes.
3. Boost Your Emergency Savings
Scrambling to find cash when your car breaks down or the roof springs a leak is no one’s idea of fun. One way to alleviate the stress is to automate your savings. Ideally, you should have about six months’ worth of household expenses set aside, but, at first, you can start with a less lofty goal, say, $1,000. Then, set up an automatic transfer from the account where your paycheck is deposited into a savings account specially designated for emergencies. Alternatively, many employers allow you to deposit your pay into different accounts on payday, eliminating the need to set up a transfer. However you do it, you can start small and then increase the amount incrementally as you’re able.
4. Assess Your Regrets
Have a few? While it doesn’t pay to dwell in the past, taking few minutes to see how you could’ve better managed your money in the past year can help you think about better ways to manage your money in 2016. Changes could be something as simple as being better organized when you go grocery shopping. Compiling a list and searching for coupons, for instance, could help eliminate needless trips that waste both time and money.
5. Plan, Plan, Plan
We all have projects we’d like to complete in the new year, and now’s the time to think about which ones to get done. The beginning of the year can be a good time to find deals on any Do-It-Yourself supplies you may need for spring or summer projects. And it’s also a great time to reach out to home-improvement contractors for those plans that are beyond your skills — in a few months, they may be too busy to return your calls.
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