5 Brilliant Money Moves You Should Make on January 1

By Dan Rafter on 27 December 2017 0 comments

Plenty of us make resolutions on New Year's Day. And, yes, most of us break those same resolutions before January ends. But what about positive money moves? Are there steps you can take on the first of the year that can help ensure a financially healthy 2018?

There are. And the best news is that most of them are relatively simple. Here are five money moves to make on January 1 to ensure your finances have a happy new year.

1. Start building an emergency fund

What happens when your car unexpectedly needs a new set of brakes or your home's hot water heater bursts? If you're like many, you'll put the repairs on your credit card, adding high interest debt to your list of financial concerns.

The better move is to build up an emergency fund of cash — usually stowed in a no-risk savings account — that you can tap to pay for unexpected emergencies. Financial experts recommend that you have from six months' to a year's worth of daily living expenses saved in an emergency fund. That might sound intimidating, but even making a small deposit is a good start. If you put $100 a month into an emergency fund, you'll have $1,200 saved after a year. Make your first deposit on January 1. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

2. Automate your savings deposits

Financial experts say that people are far more likely to save money if they automate their savings. If you haven't already done so, start the new year by setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account.

The amount doesn't have to be large. Maybe you'll automatically move $25 a week into your savings account, or maybe you'll set up a deposit of $200 a month. Either way, automating your savings helps guarantee that when the year ends, you'll have set aside a solid chunk of change. And that's one New Year's resolution that isn't tough to keep. (See also: 5 Ways to Automate Your Finances)

3. Make a budget

Making a household budget might sound intimidating, especially on New Year's Day, when you might be a bit foggy from celebrating the night before. But drafting a budget is easier than you'd think.

First, list all the money you have coming into your home each month. Then, list all your fixed expenses — everything from your mortgage payment to your car loan. Third, estimate the costs of necessities that fluctuate each month, such as your utility bills, your transportation costs, and groceries.

Look at what's left and choose an amount to save each month that will help you meet your financial goals. Be realistic, but also aggressive. You can always readjust later. Whatever's left over after paying for your basic needs and your savings is what you can spend on dining out, entertainment, and other "wants."

Setting up a budget shouldn't take longer than an hour. And it's a great way to start the new year. (See also: Build a Better Budget in 5 Minutes Flat)

4. Order your credit reports

Lenders will pull your credit reports when you apply for a loan. Banks will do the same when you apply for a credit card. It's helpful to know before you apply exactly what's being said about you in your credit reports. You can order one free copy of each of your three credit reports (from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Ordering a report is a smart move to make on January 1. Each report will list your open credit card accounts and loans, and how much you owe on each of them. It will also list any missed or late payments that are seven years old or younger.

Check your reports for errors. It's important to report any mistakes you find on your credit report to both the credit bureaus and the creditor.

Don't find any errors? Great. You've still done yourself a service by finding out what's in your reports. If the information you find is discouraging — maybe your credit card balances are too high — you can at least resolve to make the financial changes necessary to improve your credit.

5. Order your credit score

Your credit score is linked to the information that's in your credit reports, but you won't find the actual score in your reports. That's why you've got to pull the score separately.

Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life. Lenders use it as a snapshot of your credit behavior. It can determine if you qualify for loans or credit cards, and at what interest rates. If your score is low, you may either not get approved for the loans at all, or you could get stuck paying high interest.

In general, lenders consider credit scores of 740 or higher to be strong. Where does your score rank? You can find out by ordering your credit score from Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. These scores aren't free: You'll usually have to pay $15 or so to get them. Alternatively, you can use a free service like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma to keep track of your score. If you have a credit card that offers a free credit score, that's another easy way to get an idea of what your credit score is on a regular basis.

However you access it, your score is important to know. If your score is too low, you can take steps to correct the financial issues that are dragging it down.

Maybe you have too much credit card debt: You can resolve to start paying it down. Maybe you have late payments that are hurting your score: You can resolve to never make a late payment again. You'll find clues about the factors hurting your credit score by reading your credit report. (See also: How to Read a Credit Report)

These are all crucial steps to starting a financially healthy 2018, and the good news is that you can do them all before the black-eyed peas are even ready. Pour yourself a warm beverage, snuggle up with your laptop or smartphone, and get your new year off on the right foot.

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