9 Simple Steps to Reach Your Financial Best in 2016

Personal Finance
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By Richard Rosso

Learn more about Richard on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Whether the goal is to increase savings, pay down debts, find a new job, or purchase a home or a car, financial aspirations top many of our resolution lists each January. And we often start strong — but as the novelty of the new year fades, so can our motivation.

Fortunately, your financial goals don’t need to be too big or onerous to have a substantial impact on your bottom line. Millstones, as I call them, can lead to milestones. And you’ll feel more empowered and less frustrated if you keep your objectives simple.

Here are nine ideas to consider for 2016:

1. Ditch your bricks-and-mortar bank.

When the Federal Reserve recently raised short-term interest rates by a quarter-point after years of a zero-interest rate policy, several big-name banks increased the rates they charge creditworthy customers for loans, but left the rates they pay for deposits — such as savings accounts — unchanged. 

Take a stand in 2016, and transfer your emergency cash or savings to an online bank. They’re FDIC-insured and have lower overhead costs than banks with physical branches, so they can offer more attractive yields. Several offer ATM fee rebates too. For recommendations, check out NerdWallet’s list of top high-yield online savings accounts.

>>> MORE: NerdWallet’s Best Savings Accounts

2. Consider refinancing.

Even if rates rise further in 2016, they’re likely to remain relatively low — meaning that this year may be a good time to refinance your mortgage, if you haven’t already. Base your decision to refinance on the amount you’ll save each month and how long it will take to break even after closing costs. You can find refinancing calculators online.

3. Transfer your balance.

The average American household with debt carries $15,355 in credit card debt, according to a NerdWallet analysis. If you’ve run up a credit card balance of your own, move your high-interest debt to a balance transfer credit card. And if you have $5,000 or more in credit card debt, consider reducing your retirement account contributions to the amount your employer will match and put that additional cash toward your debt.

4. Use apps to save on purchases and track spending.

Make technology your partner in 2016. For example, you can use the Mint.com app to track financial activity, Shopkick to find deals at major retailers, and Ibotta to unlock cash rebates on certain purchases.

5. Curb your impulses.

Make 2016 the year of the wait. Give yourself at least seven days to consider purchases of more than $50. Holding off will allow you to think before spending. If you still want the item or service after a week, move forward. And if you can’t wait a full week, give your decision at least 24 hours.

6. Buy during the off-season.

Delaying some of your shopping can also help you score deals when you do decide to buy. Think Christmas cards and decorations in January, real estate during the winter, summer items in the fall, and so on. Thepeacefulmom.com lists the best times to buy many popular items by month. NerdWallet also has tips on what to buy and what to skip in January.

7. Check your credit report.

Check your credit reports for free at www.annualcreditreport.com every January, and promptly rectify any discrepancies you find with the credit reporting agency. Not sure what to look for? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlines common credit report errors.

8. Boost identity protection efforts.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi when you access secure information or shop online, password-protect your electronic devices, and check your credit card statements monthly for suspicious activity. If you don’t already have one, purchase a shredder. They’re inexpensive and throwing intact personal documents, such as bills and financial statements, in the trash is asking for trouble.

Even if you take precautions, thieves may access your data. If you know or suspect that this has happened, place a freeze on your credit files with the three major credit bureaus. A freeze doesn’t affect your credit score and can be removed easily using a password or PIN. There may be nominal fees ($5-$10) to initiate the security freeze, but it’s worth it to prevent fraudulent activity. For more information, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s article on how credit freezes work.

9. Develop a money principle.

Early in the year, develop or fine-tune a money philosophy. Keep your thoughts short, but passionate. Consider how money fits positively into your life and what you can do to reach goals, control spending, reduce debts or earn a higher income this year.

Resolutions are easiest to keep when they’re simple and within reach — and even small changes can have a considerable impact on your financial picture.

Richard Rosso is a certified financial planner and senior advisor with Clarity Financial in Houston. For more information, visit www.myclarityfinancial.com.


Image via iStock.