via Moak: Spring clean your finances, clarionledger.com, 3/30/2016
Now that spring is officially here, homeowners everywhere are buzzing to life after the winter doldrums. Garden and home centers are full of people looking to do household maintenance, performing a thorough cleaning of their homes, and sprucing up the yard. It feels good to dust off the cobwebs, open the windows and let some fresh, cool air waft through the house.
While spring cleaning is an annual ritual, many Americans probably haven’t stopped to think about something else that needs sprucing up — their personal finances. The other day, a release from the American Bankers Association caught my attention, with the unusual title of “Out with the Old, In with the Savings: 6 Tips to Spring Clean Your Finances.”
While your household finances might not need to be pruned and fertilized like your azaleas, or hung up and aired out like your area rug, this is a good time to stop and think about how you can get your financial house in order as you do your springtime chores.
“The arrival of spring motivates people to renew their surroundings, and what better way to focus that momentum than to check off everything on your financial to-do list?” asks Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation. “Taking stock of your finances and planting the seeds of new saving habits today will go a long way toward alleviating pressures on your pocket throughout the year.”
Here are some of ABA’s ideas for straightening up your financial affairs:
Evaluate and pay down debt. Take a look at how much you owe and what you are paying in interest. If there are better rates available now, consider requesting a lower credit card interest rate or refinancing your mortgage. Begin paying off existing debt, whether that’s by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
Review your budget. A lot can change in a year. If you’ve been promoted, had a child, or become a new homeowner or renter, be sure to update your budget. Determine what expenses demand the most money and identify areas where you can realistically cut back. Develop a strategy for spending and saving and stick to it.
Check your credit report. Every year, you are guaranteed one free credit report from each of the three bureaus. Take advantage of these free reports and check them for any possible errors. Mistakes can drag down your score and prevent you from getting a loan, or cause you to pay a higher than necessary interest rate. To get yours, visit http://annualcreditreport.com. But beware: some companies say their credit reports are free, but you’ll actually have to pay or give them a credit card to register.
Download your bank’s mobile app. Manage your finances from the palm of your hand. With the click of a button, you can make a deposit or access a record of all your recent transactions. Be sure to download the latest updates when they are available.
Sign up for e-statements, paperless billing and text alerts and automatic bill pay. Converting to paperless billing will help keep your house — physical and financial — more clean and organized, and will help protect you from fraud.
Many experts also add that it’s a good time to evaluate your credit cards. While many of us are brand-loyal to a lovable fault, that loyalty could actually be causing your credit card company to take you for granted, and you could be missing out on some great deals. Shop around; especially if you have above-average credit, you could be taking advantage of special deals, lower interest rates and better terms than what you have.