April is Financial Literacy Month! As you go about your spring cleaning, make a mental note to spruce up your finances too. If you do this each year, you’ll develop a healthy habit! Here are five quick tips to get you started.
Tidy Up Your Budget
Identify your income and expenses, add them up and compare the two totals. Your goal is to spend less than you earn, so if your expenses are too high, make some adjustments. Discretionary spending is the low-hanging fruit. Can you bring your lunch to work a couple of times a month, or even a week? That will help. Small steps to reduce spending will add up.
Set/Adjust Financial Goals
If you’ve set financial goals in the past, review them to see if they need a refresh. Are you saving for retirement the way you’d planned? If yes, great! Stay the course and set another goal for yourself. Chances are, your personal or financial circumstances have changed and warrant an adjustment. Think about new goals you’d like to pursue. Documenting them makes them more real (and attainable). If you haven’t yet set goals, there’s no time like the present. Will you be in the market for a new car or house? The best way to make it happen is to plan for it.
Dust Away Debt
When it comes to financial health, reducing debt should always be a priority. If you have a student loan weighing you down, make an extra payment. Some mortgages allow you to pay down principal more rapidly, or go to a two-week billing cycle instead of a monthly one. Credit cards can quickly accumulate debt. Here are some tips for helping you reduce debt:
- Keep track of your credit card balances and be aware of interest rates and hidden fees.
- Manage your payments to avoid late fees.
- Pay off high-interest debt first.
- Avoid charging more than you can pay off at the end of each billing cycle.
Give Your Credit History the White-Glove Treatment
Review your credit report and check for inaccuracies. You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Visit annualcreditreport.com for more information. If you find your credit rating is lower than you’d like, you can take steps to improve it. To establish a good track record with creditors, always make your payments on time. And try to avoid having too many credit inquiries on your report. (Every time you apply for new credit, it’s noted as an inquiry.)
Take Measure of Your Taxes
As we near the end of last tax season, it’s a great time to plan for the coming year. Use last year's tax return as a basis, and make adjustments for anticipated changes to your income and deductions. Be sure to check your withholding, especially if you owed a chunk of taxes or were due a large refund. You may want to file a new W-4 with your employer to adjust the amount of federal or state income tax withheld from your paycheck.
Your financial well-being is very important to us, so we’ve created an online Financial Wellness Center to assist you. Four easy-to-use tutorials will help you self-assess your credit scores, proactively address identity protection, understand the importance of emergency savings, and learn how to reap the benefits of using mobile payments. Click here to get started.