Whether you’re budgeting for college, raising a family, or planning to retire, it’s always a good time to improve your financial fitness.
Even if you didn’t begin retirement planning with your first job, you can take back control of your finances today. The key is to recognize that regardless of the day, month or year that you take the first step, successful money management can be achieved if you look at it as a continual process.
Begin with your banking relationship. The range of options for consumers seeking financial products has grown significantly in recent years and one size no longer fits all. It’s common for consumers to conduct their business with more than one institution. In fact, 28 percent of middle-income bank customers said they were “very” or “somewhat likely” to switch financial institutions in the next year.1
The first step is to identify what values matters most to you in the institution you choose –low rates, personal service, convenience or technology. Do you use a bank or a credit union? If you look around, you won't see a credit union on every corner like the big banks, but however technology has leveled the playing field and limited locations often associated with credit unions no longer equate to limited service. Don’t count them out!
Most consumers are poised to take action to improve or stabilize the way they manage their finances, but don’t know what that action is. Check out these money-smart tips to help you improve your financial health:
Build an emergency fund
Prepare for the unexpected. Start small by setting up automatic transfer to a savings account and watch your money grow. Six months of income replacement is ideal but it’s ok to start with a goal of $1000.
Focus on paying more than the minimum amount due. Transfer higher balances to a lower rate credit card, or ask about refinancing a home or auto loan.
Improve your credit score
Making on-time payments and paying down balances with an online bill pay service can help you reduce late fees and stick to a budget. Be diligent and get your free credit report once a year to check for unauthorized activity. https://www.annualcreditreport.com
Protect your identity
Keep identity thieves out of your financial accounts. Shred old tax documents and statements, check balances on debit and credit card accounts, and review credit reports annually.
Review your investment and retirement accounts
Evaluate your portfolio and ensure you’ve maximized any tax-advantaged opportunities. Participate in your employers’ savings program if offered and never borrow money from a 401K.
Not all accounts are created equal
Free checking is everywhere but is it really free? Look for hidden fees and be sure to ask if your institution offers cash back and interest checking accounts. Rewards and cash back cards can be a fun and worthwhile way to earn extra money on your spending.
Regardless of where you bank, don’t settle for less. You work hard for your money so make it work hard for you too. Learn more about free checking with cash back rewards at Altier Credit Union’s website, www.altiercu.org.
1.TruStageWhat Matters Now™ Consumer Survey, © 2015 CUNA Mutual Group