CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Do you find yourself short on money at the end of the month, live paycheck to paycheck, wonder why your credit score is so low? Perhaps it’s time to take a hard look at your finances.
April is Financial Literacy Month, a national effort to promote the importance of understanding your personal financial situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many Americans to struggle financially with job losses and inflation. Some used credit cards to get by, maxing out their credit lines and paying high interest fees and late fees. Others found themselves behind on mortgage and rent, utilities, car payments, and student loans.
Credit and financial counselors suggest the following ideas to organize your finances now and plan for the future:
- CREATE A BUDGET– Review and add up all your debts, bills, and financial obligations and list how much you owe on each account, which are current and past-due. If you have any past due, how far over due and determine how much you will need to catch up. Compare to your income. If the money out is more than the money in, it’s time to make some cuts.
- SET UP PAYMENT PLANS– Contact the companies that you owe money to and set up a payment plan. Most companies are willing to accept some money on a regular basis as opposed to sending your account to a collection agency.
- CUT OUT EXTRAS– Getting coffee, eating out, going to the movies or other entertainment can eat at your budget. Make your own coffee and lunches, get free movies and TV programs from your local library. Many local museums and organizations offer free activities.
- DON’T FORGET SAVINGS– If the company you work for has a retirement plan, many times the employer offers matching funds. Set up an account and put in the minimum every week. It comes out of your paycheck so you won’t be tempted to spend it.
- SET REALISTIC GOALS- Some debt may take years to pay off. As each credit card or loan gets paid off, put some of the money that you used to pay that bill toward another bill to help pay it down, or put it into a savings account. Slow and steady wins the race.
- CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT– The three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are required by law to provide you with a copy of your credit report once a year for free, if you request it. Check it to make sure all the information is correct. This is also a good way to make sure no one is using your information to open accounts in your name.
Do not contact the three credit bureaus individually. These are the only ways to order your free annual credit reports: Via the website AnnualCreditReport.com, by phone at 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
- GET FINANCIAL COUNSELING– For some people, getting organized financially is overwhelming. There are many credit counseling agencies that provide services to help consumers, often times for free. A search of the internet can help find an organization in your area. An internet search will also help you find free financial literacy guides, budgeting and journalizing worksheets.
There are several government websites that provide free resources for personal financial literacy: Consumer.gov, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).