This week, we are going to look at some New Year’s resolutions that are worth keeping. While every one takes effort, we are going to start with some easier ones.
Experian conducted a poll of people’s financial New Year’s Eve resolutions. Many of them are related to credit.
Credit cards probably carry the highest interest rate you deal with. This means you want to pay them in full each month, so you will not be charged an interest fee. If you are carrying a balance, you are not alone. About 61% of Americans have credit cards and carry an average balance of $6,194, according to Experian.
You never want to pay only the minimum, or it could take years to pay off your balance. One strategy might be to pay enough to cover all current charges, plus a fixed amount each month. Say you had a balance of $2,000. If you paid $200 per month more than your purchases, your balance would be eliminated in a year.
If you have a high enough credit score, you may want to open a Citi Simplicity Card. It offers 0% APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers. The rates then increase to 16.24% to 26.24%. You probably do not want to use that card for current purchases, but it may help you pay off an existing balance.
Thirty-three percent of people surveyed said they wanted to improve their credit score. We discussed this in more depth several months ago. The No. 1 thing is to pay your bills on time. One way to do that is to set up autopay. Not opening a lot of new credit cards also will help improve your credit score.
Be sure to check your credit report every year. It has been estimated that 25% of Americans have a mistake on their credit report. The free government website is www.annualcreditreport.com. It is free every 12 months.
The most popular resolution in the survey was to save more money. It was the goal of almost half of all people.
There are only two ways to accomplish this. One is earning more money. Unemployment is at a 50-year low and there are help-wanted signs everywhere. Supply and demand are the most powerful economic principle. Good employees are earning a higher wage, and many businesses say their No. 1 problem is finding good employees. Be that person and you may be able to get a raise.
The other way to save more is to simply spend less. Buy what you need, not what you want. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Many of our purchases are discretionary. Make a budget. Write down your monthly fixed costs – such as mortgage, car payment, insurance and other things. Subtract these from your take-home pay to calculate how much available cash you have.
The best way to save is to pay yourself first. Have your savings goals automatically deducted from your paycheck. That way, you are less likely to spend that money on impulse items. Have separate accounts set up for each of your goals. If you commingle the money, you probably will not achieve any of them.
Next week, we will discuss other ways to improve your financial health. Make 2020 the year you take corrective action.
Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”
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