Make Your New Year’s Resolutions A Financial Success
If you’re like most Americans, ringing in the New Year also means resolving to change old habits, or start new ones. Year after year, getting one’s personal finances in order consistently ranks as one of the top 5 New Years resolutions. As with any resolution, the hard part is not making the promise, but actually putting it into action – consistently. Many of us have suffered through overcrowded gyms in January, only to see attendance slowly wane in February and March. But, if you are like the majority of Americans who will commit to get your finances in order in 2011, here are five concrete steps you can take now to get you on the right track.
Check Your Credit
A good credit score is the single most important factor in getting a bank loan to buy a home or a car, among many other things. Therefore, it is crucial to check your credit report; one overlooked mistake can cause havoc when you least expect it. Under current laws, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report each year. Put a reminder on your calendar to check your credit every January. And don’t be fooled by those catchy commercials directing you to order your “free” credit report with their company; there is only one government (FTC) authorized website to order your truly free report – www.annualcreditreport.com.
Install and Use Quicken
There is an old adage – watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. Quicken is personal finance software that lets you track all your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and investments. It’s an excellent tool to begin managing your finances. Once you see where your money is going each month, you may be less inclined to visit the ATM or charge that new sweater. I recommend Quicken, as opposed to other software, because they are the industry leader and I’ve been a user for over 13 years.
Put Your Savings on Autopilot
If your employer has a 401k (403b, 457, etc.) plan, contribute the maximum amount while still maintaining a manageable lifestyle. If you have maxed out your 401k and can still save some more, open either a Roth IRA (if you qualify) or a non-deductible IRA and contribute any additional savings. While your current income is finite, your future needs are infinite. If you would like to save for your child’s college education, only do so after you have saved for your own retirement. As I tell my clients, you can always borrow for college, but you can never borrow for retirement.
Pay Off Credit Cards
If you carry a balance on one or more credit cards, select the one with the highest interest rate and begin aggressively paying down the balance. If you can only make the minimum payments on your credit cards, begin cutting non-essential monthly expenses to devote more funds to paying off the debt.
Meet with a Fee-Only Financial Advisor
You don’t need to be a millionaire to benefit from working with a competent financial advisor. A Fee-Only financial advisor can help you: identify or sharpen your financial goals; develop a detailed written plan to help keep you on track; identify an appropriate asset allocation that is commensurate with your circumstances; minimize your taxes; and most importantly, put your plan into action and provide you with detailed updates. A Fee-Only financial advisor is like a doctor for your finances.
Execute these five steps and you are certain to see tangible improvements in your financial health. May your 2011 be a prosperous and healthy year for you and your family.
Ara Oghoorian, CFA is the president and founder of ACap Asset Management, Inc., a “Fee-Only” financial advisory and investment management firm located in Los Angeles, CA.