Getting your finances into shape is a top resolution for 2009. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, offers five simple things you can do to put your best financial foot forward this new year.
Firstly, take control of your investments. The worst thing you can do during a down economy is panic and pull all of your money out of your investments. Resolve to protect your finances as the market storm rages on. Take this time to build up your emergency fund, and set reminders to regularly review your portfolios asset allocation.
Stay positive by turning economic lemons into lemonade. The struggling economy isn't all bad for your finances, so look for that silver lining. Mortgage rates have dropped to near 40-year lows amid the housing crisis, which makes it a great time to refinance or even buy a home. Struggling retailers are offering record sales, too, so there's no reason to buy even the basics at full price.
It's also a good time to improve your credit score. As lenders tighten their criteria in the credit crunch, you'll need at least a 760 on the 300 to 850 point FICO scale to secure most loans or lines of credit. Track your score for free on CreditKarma.com. Pay bills on time, keep old credit cards open, and pay down those balances.
And put your savings to work! It's not easy to save a lot when your finances are already stretched tight. But make sure whatever you can save is earning a good interest rate. There are still safe banks, like HSBC and Emigrant Direct, offering about 3% for a no-fees online savings account.
Finally, stick to a budget. Keeping a budget is actually an easy resolution to keep thanks to a host of new sites like Mint.com and Quicken Online that automatically track and sort every transaction. They'll even alert you when bills are due or your spending is close to the limit you've set.
For more on this and other financial topics, click here.
by Kelli Grant and Jenn Eaker
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