A new year is a great time to take a fresh look at your finances. That’s why we wanted to share with you some start-of-the-year steps you may want to consider that could have a big impact on your finances throughout 2016, and beyond:
Make a financial New Year’s resolution (or two!). Are your New Year’s resolutions the same each year? The number one resolution nationwide year after year, not surprisingly, is to lose weight. What about making some financial New Year’s resolutions? Research shows that Americans are more likely to achieve personal finance-related resolutions than those involving fitness and health. The more specific the goal, the better.
Look into refinancing. Who would have thought mortgage rates would remain near historic lows? Although rates have been low for years now, studies show many Americans still have higher-rate home loans, some in the 8 to 9 percent range! Even if your mortgage rate isn’t that high, you still may benefit from refinancing. Refinancing can lower your monthly mortgage payment, shorten the length of time it takes to pay off your home and if you have equity in your property, can even be a source of cash. Even if you weren’t able to refinance into a lower-rate home loan in the past, you owe it to yourself to visit a mortgage lender to see whether refinancing makes sense for you today. If you’re nearing retirement, look into 10- or 15-year home loan options.
Consider going ‘green’. Many simple changes can translate into big savings on your energy costs. Here is an Energy Star room-by-room guide to cutting energy usage. Could this be the year you swap out older windows for new energy-efficient ones? Or look into a solar hot-water heating system? Don’t forget to do a bit of research to see if you are eligible for any rebates or incentives from your utility company, city or state, for switching to more energy-efficient products or appliances.
Look for ways to save on recurring expenses. A new year is a great time to examine major spending categories, including your cellphone, cable service and utilities. Are you paying for any features or time you aren’t using? Could you go with a cheaper plan? What about your land line — do you really need it? Call your service providers and see if they have any less expensive plans, promotions or ideas to help you save money. Shop around or ask for a better rate from the companies you regularly pay money to.
Schedule an insurance checkup. Meet with your insurance agent to see if you are taking advantage of any available discounts. It’s also a great time to see if you have the right types of coverage for you and your family. Ask about opportunities to save money by bundling insurance policies or having your auto and homeowners policies with the same company. Ask about an umbrella insurance policy. They aren’t just for wealthy people. In today’s litigious world, they’re making sense for more and more families.
Set your savings on autopilot. Consider having an amount from your paycheck automatically diverted into a savings account or other savings vehicle. If your employer doesn’t offer this option, have an amount automatically transferred each month from your checking account to your savings account. With automatic savings plans, you don’t have to remember to save. And you’ll be surprised just how quickly automatic savings add up.
Pay down/off your credit cards. Research shows that even many high-income families throughout the United States carry a heavy credit card debt load. Make a plan to pay down credit card debt, with the ultimate goal of paying them off. High credit card balances in relation to your credit limit can lower your credit score, which could mean you pay higher interest rates on some types of consumer loans.