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The Best Money Moves for January

Jan. 8, 2015
Personal Finance
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After an indulgent holiday season, some Americans have entered 2015 with pants that fit just a little tighter and bank accounts that are noticeably lighter. While hitting the gym will help you shed those added pounds, making the following money moves can rectify any shopping-induced setbacks. Here are several ways to get back on firm financial footing in the New Year.

Pay off your credit card debt

If you relied heavily on your credit card(s) in the last few months, make it a priority to tackle any debt you might have. Missed bill payments and outstanding debt serve as nasty blemishes on your credit report and eat away at your credit score. This will ultimately hurt your chances of qualifying for loans and mortgages with low interest rates, and could even make it difficult to rent an apartment.

You’ll probably want to adjust your monthly budget to reallocate funds toward your credit card debt. This might mean cutting back on some of your nonessential expenses, like dining out and going to the movie theater. So be it. You’ll thank yourself once your credit card balance is back to zero.

Consider a balance transfer

If you’ve crunched the numbers and determined that you won’t be able to pay your credit card bills in full for several months, consider transferring your balance to a 0% interest card. These cards give you up to 18 months to pay off your debt without accruing additional interest. Be advised, though, that you might have to pay a fee for each balance you transfer, anywhere from 2% to 5% of the amount being moved. If you have an especially strong credit score, you could qualify for a 0% interest card that doesn’t carry a balance transfer fee.

Use apps that help you pay your bills on time

From cable bills to car insurance to credit card statements, most Americans are inundated with bills every month. You might even forget to pay one every now and then. Fortunately, a number of smartphone apps have been specifically designed to keep you on track. Chronicle, for example, is an easy-to-use, $10 iPhone app that reminds users when all bills are due and makes it easy to pay them using the app. BillGuard, a free app that works on both iPhone and Android devices, takes it a step further by scanning your bills every month to make sure you aren’t being charged more than you should be.

Prepare for tax season

Getting started on your taxes as soon as possible means you won’t have to scramble to meet the deadline in April. Keep an eye out for the various forms headed your way in the coming months, and examine them closely when they arrive.

“As all of your tax season-related mail—like W-2s and 1099s—comes in, it’s a good idea to look over it for any obvious errors,” says Johanna Fox Turner, a Kentucky-based certified financial planner. “If you do find any errors, contact your company now so that you can get things straightened out.”

Fox Turner also recommends filing your taxes as soon as you’ve collected all of your paperwork.

“This can prevent an identity thief from filing early and stealing your refund,” she says. “If you’ve been a recent victim of identity theft, make sure to get an identity protection PIN from the IRS.”

Final word

Whether it’s making good on your credit card debt or preparing for tax season, setting the right tone for a financially successful 2015 starts today. Taking note of these pointers will help you as you and your wallet make a fresh start.

Feature illustration by Brian Yee.