By Sara Bristoll
If you’re ready to start working on your financial resolutions, you don’t need to wait until the New Year. Now is the perfect time to get started. Yet, everyone has experiences that have shaped who they are and the decisions they will make today. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start building new money habits, or reinforce the good ones you’re already following.
Regardless of what financial position you’re in, making the following money moves can help you build a secure foundation for managing your money, so your financial situation doesn’t come crashing down on you later on.
- Check Your Credit
It may feel like we, as an organization, talk about checking your credit a lot … and we do. But we talk about this subject because it’s extremely important to know what’s on your credit report, and because 20 percent of consumers still have some type of error on their report that they’re unaware of.
Your credit score can affect everything from your job prospects (47 percent of employers check credit reports) to security deposits (many companies will waive these if you have great credit) and even your romantic life (a 109 point improvement led to a 14 percent greater chance of forming a relationship in a recent study).
As a member, you have access to your credit report (and score) for free through IDProtect™ every quarter. Get started by clicking the “Member Benefits” link inside online banking and set a reminder to follow up every three months.
- Protect Your Identity
In 2015, there were just shy of 500,000 identify theft complaints made to the Federal Trade Commission, adding up to billions of dollars in fraud. Start protecting yourself by monitoring your credit activity. In addition to checking your credit often (as discussed above), credit monitoring services will alert you if someone tries to pull your credit. If you didn’t authorize the credit check, it could mean that someone else was using your ID.
There are many sites out there that promise to monitor your credit. Research them thoroughly before signing up and make sure you understand what all is involved. Arizona Federal members also receive credit monitoring and alerts at no charge when they sign up for IDProtect.
- Review Your Insurance
If life experience has taught us anything, it’s that a lot can happen in the course of a year. Any of those changes could mean you’re no longer as covered as you want to be by your insurance. So, ask yourself these questions:
Did my home value appreciate?
Did we have a(nother) child?
Was there a change to my marital status?
Is there another driver in my household?
Did we buy any expensive jewelry or technology?
Have we been gifted with family heirlooms that are worth quite a bit?
Each insurance policy is different; not all home policies cover jewelry and many that do only cover jewelry up to a specified dollar value. The same goes for expensive technology or family heirlooms.
If you had another child, you may find you want to increase your life insurance policy. Or, if your home appreciated, your homeowner’s insurance may no longer cover the entire replacement cost.
Talking to an insurance agent every year can help you keep the pulse on what you’re covered for and find holes in your coverage that may need to be filled. As one of Us, you have access to our insurance specialists who will sit down for a no-cost insurance review with you.
- Check In with Your Spouse (or Yourself)
Conversations about money are perhaps some of the most awkward and dreaded talks to have (yes, even with yourself!). Money management can be a deeply personal issue. In fact, money causes approximately 22 percent of divorces, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis.
However, making sure you’re on the same page about your financial situation (i.e., debt, savings, bills) and how your household will manage money, can save you a lot of arguments in the long run. Here’s one way to do this:
Set aside a date and time for you and your spouse to talk about money when you won’t be disturbed.
Come prepared with statements from all of your checking, savings, retirement, credit card and loan accounts, as well as any pay statements.
Review how much you’re bringing in a month together and how much you’re spending. Talk about your goals for the next year, or even five years down the road.
Decide together what adjustments you’ll need to make as a team to reach those goals.
Even if you have gone through this in the past, it’s beneficial to communicate regularly with each other to see if you’re on track or if your goals have changed. We recommend at least once each year.
- Refresh Your Spending Plan
Now that you’ve had the talk about money, it’s a great time to update your spending plan to reflect any changes in your goals, your lifestyle, your debt or additional household expenses (did your kids sign up for a new sports team?).
Your plan should have a bucket for your required bills (e.g., mortgage, insurance, etc.), a savings bucket (always pay yourself first), a section for bills that you’d like to pay off (like credit cards and your car loan), and a spot for fun money (to use for clothes, shopping, eating out, or even your favorite hobby).
Be realistic about what you can actually achieve. For example, it’s rather difficult to increase your savings account by a huge amount while paying off thousands of dollars in debt each year. Most people would have to completely cut out their fun fund – which can lead to bursts of binge spending that would set you back.
Outline a plan that you can live with that helps you reach your goals. And, if you need someone to take a second look at where you could be cutting back, call a friend you trust or stop by a branch and we’ll look over your plan with you.
- Update Your End-of-Life Plan
This is a subject that’s hard to discuss because, quite frankly, most of us don’t like to think about what would happen if we passed on. However, this is important for protecting our loved ones and helping them through the difficult decisions that come after death.
Start with updating (or creating) a will that outlines what happens to your possessions, money, etc. and let people know why you divided things the way you did. Doing so can help lessen any family arguments that could arise during this emotional time. It’s possible you may even need to set up a trust (talk to your legal and tax advisors to explore the benefits of trust accounts).
Review the beneficiaries on any trust accounts, investment accounts or life insurance policies. Beneficiaries tend to supersede anything written in your will since they are considered specific instructions set up by you for that account. However grim it may seem, gritting your teeth and getting this done is the smart thing to do.
- Check Your Emergency Fund
If you’re part of the 38 percent of Americans who have more than $1,000 in their savings account – congratulations, you’re headed in the right direction! If you’re not quite there, it may be time to make saving a priority. Experts recommend keeping three to six months’ worth of expenses (not income) in an emergency fund to help pay for true emergencies or your bills if you lose your income.
If you find that your savings is falling short, start by making these smart moves:
Pay yourself first to make sure you don’t spend the money before it makes it to your savings account.
Take the extra cash in your pocket and put it in your savings account. Even saving $10 a week will grow your savings account by $520 each year.
Don’t give up! Keep reviewing your spending habits to find where you can cut out unnecessary expenses.
- Reassess Your Retirement Plan
Just like our shortfall in savings accounts, Americans are also falling short in retirement savings. Experts recommend you should be saving at minimum 10 percent of your income for retirement, and since the end of the year is when most employers issue raises, it’s also the best time to increase your retirement savings.
Check your benefits to see if your employer offers a retirement plan match. If so, make sure you’re taking full advantage and contributing enough to get the full match (otherwise, you’re just leaving free money on the table). If you’re already contributing to meet the match, consider increasing your contribution this year by 1 or 2 percent. It won’t seem like much in your paycheck (especially if you received a raise), and it can make a pretty significant difference when it comes time to retire years down the road.
It’s also smart to talk to a licensed financial advisor about alternate options for savings – like IRA accounts – and to your tax advisor about the benefits of Roth versus Traditional retirement savings accounts.
As an Arizona Federal member, you have access to licensed advisors through Arizona Federal Investment Solutions.*
- Get a Handle On Your Debt
The national average credit card debt is $16,061 (for households that have credit card debt). That’s almost one-third the median household income in Phoenix and doesn’t take into consideration auto loans, student loans or other types of unsecured debt. Make 2017 your year to take control of your debt. Once you have some money in savings (so you don’t turn to your credit card in an emergency), start tackling your debt.
There are two ways you can do this: by paying off your highest interest rate debt first, then tackling the next highest and so on until your debt is paid off, or by tackling your lowest balance debt and moving on to the next lowest, etc. Either way you choose, pay just the minimum on your other credit cards or loans and, when you pay off one debt, take the full amount of that payment and apply it to the next loan you’re going to tackle.
Before you commit to paying off your debt, you have to commit to stop racking up more debt. In some cases, that can mean cutting up your credit cards if you can’t control your spending.
Ready to Make Your Money Moves?
While we can’t start with a clean slate, we can learn new habits to clean up our finances for the future. Change how you view your finances this year, build better habits and begin the journey to financial wellness. If you need help getting started, visit ArizonaFederal.org to schedule an appointment for a no-cost, no-obligation credit consultation or financial checkup.
* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. Arizona Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.