CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – How good are you at managing your money? Do you live paycheck to paycheck, have savings, bad or good credit, outstanding debt, pay your bills on time?
There are many facets to good personal money management. April is Financial Literacy Month and now might be a good time to take a good look at your financial situation.
First, start with a budget. In one column list your monthly expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities (electric, gas, cable, oil), loans, car and student loans, insurances, phone, gas/maintenance for your car and any other bills you pay, as well as what you put aside for savings. In a second column list your monthly income. If the expenses are more than income, you’re in trouble and need to find ways to cut expenses, or increase income.
It’s important to update your budget as expenses increase or decrease. Paid off a loan? Maybe put that money toward savings or paying down another bill. Have a new medical bill? Look for a way to cut back on another expense such as not eating out, not going to the movies, or taking a stay-cation instead of going out of town.
When making your budget there are multiple factors to consider including: the needs of your family, long and short-term financial goals, ways to lower monthly bills, and creating a feasible spending plan that you can stick to.
Most financial consultants agree that a credit card should not be used for day-to-day expenses but reserved for occasional big payments for products or services and then immediately paid off. The interest accrued on credit cards can have people stuck in a revolving door making payments for years and eventually paying much more than what they originally paid for an item. If you’re young and building credit, start out with one credit card with a balance limit. This will build your credit rating and help develop responsible spending and payment habits. Investigate cards that offer rewards, low interest and no annual fees.
Because many people live paycheck to paycheck, sometimes savings doesn’t seem doable. But having savings for emergencies is necessary to prevent going into debt by borrowing via a loan or using a credit card. Start small if you have to. Consider opening a savings account and having the money taken out of your paycheck. If your employer offers a retirement plan, have a small amount deducted. It is never too early to start saving.
Your credit score plays an important role in your ability to get a loan or mortgage. Credit history can be a factor when looking for an apartment, even applying for a job. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus every year. Look the reports over carefully and check for mistakes or any changes and make corrections.
The credit reports also show if any credit cards, loans, or other financial accounts have been opened in your name. This is identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2020 there were 1,387,615 cases of identity theft in the U.S., up 53% over 2019. One way to reduce the change of being a victim of this fraud is to place a freeze on your credit reports that will block all access to them, stopping unauthorized credit accounts from being opened. Only you can authorize the lifting of the freeze.
Below are the three major credit bureaus and links to getting your free credit report:
If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, fraud or identity theft, file a report with your local police department and the FTC.
If you’re in need of financial counseling, below is a list of professional organizations that can offer free advice and assistance:
- Financial Planning Association
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling
- Foundation for Financial Planning
- The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
- The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education
- Savvy Ladies
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
- Department of Housing and Urban Development