After one of the most brutal winters we’ve seen in years, it’s finally time to put away the down coats, spruce up the house and, yes, even tidy up your personal finances. Here are a few tasks you may want to tackle:
Clean up bad credit
Have you been subject to high interest rates? Denied a loan altogether? Been unable to rent an apartment or perhaps even land a job? If you have bad credit, then you’re aware of these consequences and others. Dedicate spring cleaning time as the annual time to review yourcredit report, and boost that all-important score.
Freshen your budget
We’re three months into the new year. How are you doing so far? Under budget? Over budget? Have you spent more or less than you planned in certain areas? If you’re close to your expectations, great, but if you have veered off track — perhaps because you’ve changed jobs or undergone another life-altering event — make any necessary adjustments now, before things escalate.
Plug financial holes
I’m not only talking about canceling memberships you’re not using, avoiding late fees, passing up valuable tax breaks, or revisiting your insurance policies to make sure the coverage is both adequate and affordable. I’m also talking about putting more money in your pocket by reducing your biggest monthly expense: your mortgage debt. Did you know that a 1 percent savings on your mortgage rate, in just one year, could save you about $2,400? That’s the equivalent of a week-long vacation for a family of four! Point being, even small amounts can make a big difference.
Pay it down
If you’re still carrying credit card debt, check the cards’ interest rates and balances. Then, make a plan to pay off this debt using a strategy that works for you, whether it’s targeting just one card first, transferring your balance to a lower (or 0 percent) card, or even making two minimum payments each month. Consider this example: If you’ve got a $2,000 balance on a card with a 17 percent interest rate, if you only make the minimum payment, it will take more than 21 years to pay off the balance. But if you make an additional payment of the original amount two weeks later, you’ll be debt-free in less than three years. How is this possible? Card issuers typically charge interest on a daily basis so the sooner you make a payment, the faster your average daily balance is reduced.
Spring is the ideal time to shred any old financial documents. While ATM deposit slips, withdrawal receipts and canceled checks that don’t pertain to your taxes can be thrown out as soon as you’ve verified that the transactions are accurately documented on your bank statements, you’ll want to keep tax records for seven years, pay stubs and bank statements for a year, and credit card statements for at least 45 days.
Vera Gibbons is a financial journalist based in New York City and is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Connect with her at http://veragibbons.com/.