Do you have a new year’s resolution? I have several, including learning French. I have downloaded Duolingo, a cool little app created by the prodigies at CMU, and I’m 23% fluent already. For some people, managing personal finance is a bit like learning a foreign language. Is this your resolution? Welcome to my financial checkup primer.
New Year Financial Resolutions
- Credit Report - If you do only one thing this year, check your credit report. Credit reports are used by lenders to determine terms and interest rates you are offered. More importantly, employers, insurance companies, landlords, law enforcement and certain legal entities can request your credit report. There are three reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian and the data they collect about you can differ significantly. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com, a free service, to request your reports. This is not your credit score, often called your FICO score, but it is the data that affects that score. Make sure all the data reported belongs to you and is up to date.
- Technology – There are dozens of good apps and software available to help you manage your financial life, but since this is a primer, I’m recommending Mint which is owned by Intuit, the company that created QuickBooks, Quicken and Turbo Tax products. You can link bank and liability accounts to Mint, create a budget and track spending. It works on multiple devices. The only “fee” is targeted advertising.
- Emergency Fund - Do you have one? This is an important step in controlling your cash flow. Typically, the fund is savings to cover 3-6 months of living expenses. Make it easy on yourself. Set up a payroll deduction or a recurring transfer to a separate high-interest savings or credit union account. The idea here is to have liquid funds quickly available.
- Retirement Plan – Does your employer offer a retirement plan? Do they offer an employer match? Then, sign up now. Contribute at least as much as the maximum match. This is free money. Don’t let it get away. No employer plan? Consider MyRA, a simple retirement option sponsored by the U.S. Treasury. Unlike most retirement options, there are no minimums and no fees. Your savings is backed by the federal government. Contribute any amount up to the maximum IRA limit. You can even divert an income tax refund to this account. It earns a respectable interest rate based upon the Government Securities fund (currently around 2.31%). The account follows Roth rules, offers no current tax deductions and there is a phase-out for modified adjusted gross income over $184,000 in 2016. MyRA grows tax-free and retirement distributions are tax-free. You can roll over the account to a private Roth IRA at any time.
- Give Back – Support a charitable institution of your choice. While it may not support your financial well-being, it will enhance your status as a citizen of the world.
Have a blissful and prosperous new year.
Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.