New Year’s financial resolutions you still need to accomplish

By Personal FinanceFOXBusiness

New report: Money concerns are stressing Americans out

Fox Business Briefs: A new Merrill Edge report shows 59 percent of Americans worry about their finances.

Pay down debt. Reign in spending. Build your savings. If you haven’t kept any of your New Year’s resolutions, you’re not alone.

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A study conducted at the end of 2018 by YouGov Omnibus found that only one-third of Americans stuck by their resolutions.

But Leslie Thompson, founding principal at Spectrum Management, said to not be discouraged -- now’s the time to reset.

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“Even if you did get off target, or perhaps you didn’t even begin, it’s never too late,” she said. “But it’s important that you are monitoring these various areas so that you are not derailing your long term plan.”

Spending/budget

Overspending can easily derail any budgeting plan. Thompson said categorizing your spending and tracking your budget can help keep you on the right path. If you need help, try using online tools.

“A lot of people get derailed because they just don’t know where to begin, and they don’t know how to evaluate it,” she said. “There are tools out there that are easy to track to make sure you are on target.”

Debt

Not all debt is equal.

Thompson advised consumers to pay off credit cards first, because interest rates on those are generally higher than other debt. Review all your credit cards with outstanding balances and make note of the balance due and interest rate.

“If you have small balances, pay these cards off first so that you can tackle larger balances,” she said. “While continuing to pay the minimum balance due with each card, pay an additional fixed amount each month beyond what is due on your highest interest rate card. “

Thompson said individuals should also consider taking advantage of credit card promotional offers by transferring high balances to lower interest rate cards.    

Credit

Are you checking your credit report at least once a year? By law, every American is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report every 12 months. Thompson said pulling your credit report will alert you to surprises, such as a new card being issued.

“Sites like Credit Karma will send you your credit score once a month,” she says. “They will alert you real-time if there has been a change. In the past, people had to be more proactive and seek out this information. There are a lot of tools now feeding that information on a set schedule so you don’t have to stop what you are doing and check.”

Retirement

If you have a company-sponsored retirement plan, Thompson said you should find out if there have been any recent changes, such as the match amount.

You should also review the amount you are saving. Thompson said the goal should be to save 15 percent of your income.

“If you are not setting aside that amount of money, go in and increase it one percent,” she said. “Over the course of the next few years, you will be on target to meet that 15 percent amount.”

Are you having a tough time reaching that 15 percent objective?

“You don’t need to increase it drastically,” she said. “You could increase it once a quarter by small increments so you are not really feeling it.”

Thompson also suggested automating the retirement savings process. Some company-sponsored plans have what are called escalators to force people to gradually increase the amount they are contributing to their retirement.

Emergency savings

When establishing an emergency fund, Thompson said it’s important to identify your risks.

“Do they have enough liquidity to last through a job loss, health scare or major house or car repair? Knowing how much money is necessary to pay monthly fixed costs for a six-month period is a good rule of thumb to determine the size of an emergency fund,” she said.

Thompson added that an emergency fund should be liquid with little to no market risk, such as a high-yielding savings account or an ultra-short-term bond fund.

She said establishing automatic transfers; either directly from your paycheck or from your bank account creates discipline and eliminates decision-making or forgetfulness.

Your home

Maintaining your home was probably not on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

If not, Thompson thinks it should be. A house is likely the largest asset you will ever own. The middle of the year is the perfect time to assess your home’s condition.

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“Make sure there isn’t any deferred maintenance,” she said. “Typically when people budget they don’t budget for these non-recurring things, like a major house repair. Keep the house in good order so you don’t have unanticipated expenses along the way.”

Linda Bell joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in 2014 as an assignment editor. She is an award-winning writer of business and financial content.  You can follow her on Twitter @lindanbell