Whatever your financial goals — from building a nest egg to flying the coop for a dream vacation — you’re only 10 minutes away from being a step closer. Here are 10 quick ways to get your personal finances in order.
1. Bump up your 401(k) contribution
Contributing just 1% more of your paycheck toward a 401(k) will add thousands to your retirement savings. Want to squirrel away money even faster? If your employer matches contributions, increase yours to the maximum amount it will kick in. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table.
2. Start an emergency fund
The median American household has less than a month’s worth of income in liquid savings, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s a scary position to be in if financial disaster strikes, such as a major medical problem not covered by health insurance.
Prepare for financial roadblocks by opening a savings account for emergencies. Arrange regular transfers from your checking account to ensure your rainy-day fund grows every month.
3. Fine-tune your tax withholdings
If your withholdings — the income tax removed from each paycheck — are too low, you could owe more at tax time than expected. Too high, and you’re essentially loaning the IRS money that could be earning interest for you elsewhere.
Contact your human resources department to adjust withholdings on your W4. The IRS withholding calculator can help you plan for your circumstances.
4. Set up overdraft alerts
Accidentally outspending your checking account is easy, and the accompanying fees can be a budget killer, especially if you buy several items while in the red. NerdWallet found maximum one-day penalties to be above $200 at several banks.
To avoid this pitfall, log in to your bank account and elect overdraft alerts. If your funds dip below a certain amount, you’ll get a warning text — your cue to stop spending.
5. Download your free credit report
Having poor credit can cost you, in the form of expenses such as higher car insurance and mortgage rates.
You’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Many credit card issuers also offer customers free FICO scores, making it easy to find out if your credit could use some TLC.
6. Seek late-payment forgiveness
Kicking yourself over missing a credit card payment? Although card issuers don’t advertise it, they may waive your late fee if you ask nicely, especially for first-time flubs.
7. Take a breath before you buy
Studies show the chemical high of shopping often outweighs the actual satisfaction from impulse purchases — as if the seldom-worn duds hanging in your closet weren’t proof enough.
Next time you feel the pull of the “buy now” button, try lifting your spirits another way first. Meditate, have a snack, go outside. You may be surprised how unnecessary that shiny new item seems afterward.
8. Shop at the FSA Store
Contributing to a flexible spending account is a great way to earmark money for medical costs during the year. But what if December comes and you’ve got a bunch of money still sitting in the account?
Rather than forfeit unused money at year’s end, burn up your remaining FSA bucks at fsastore.com — an online marketplace where you can stock up on sunscreen, bandages, contact lenses and other items.
9. Double-check your life insurance beneficiary
Life insurance policies typically last decades. A beneficiary you listed 20 or 30 years ago may not still be the person you want receiving the payout — for instance, if you named your spouse as the original beneficiary but have since remarried. After such a hefty cash investment, it’d be a shame to see the payoff inadvertently go to the wrong person.
10. Identify your no-fee ATMs
Settling for the first ATM you find is tempting when you’re on the go, but fees can add up fast. Consumers cough up nearly $5 for every out-of-network ATM transaction, on average, according to 2016 data from Informa Research Services.
Here’s a better option: Go to your bank’s online ATM locator or mobile app to scout no-fee machines near your usual haunts. Credit unions and small or online banks often reimburse fees at affiliate ATMs, too, which are hard to identify on your own.
Alex Glenn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected].
This article was written by NerdWallet and was first published by USA Today.