The latest national survey of Americans shows that our love affairs with plastic is undermining our financial stability. According to Bankrate.com, only 52 percent of Americans have saved more than they owe on their credit cards. From consolidating credit cards to creating a budget or finding free deals on essential items, here are four quick tips to get your finances in order:
- Know what you owe. Look at your monthly bills and account balances and access your free credit report through websites like annualcreditreport.com. You can also reach out to your local United Way and find out if they offer financial education.
- Consolidate your credit cards. Credit card consolidation can reduce the amount of interest you are paying each month, but it’s most effective if you don’t open any new credit cards while paying off the consolidated debt. A local non-profit consumer credit counseling agency can help you with a debt consolidation and debt management plan.
- Make a budget and follow it. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The best way to keep track of your income and expenses and to reach your financial goals is to have a plan. A budget is simply a spending a saving plan. Once you create it, make a concerted effort to stick to it. By creating a savings cushion, you’ll help yourself avoid financial catastrophes when unexpected expenses fall out of the sky.
- Comparison shop and look for deals. Why pay more, when you could pay less (or nothing at all)? Take some time to find the best bargains on food, insurance, financial products, and even tax prep. Individuals with an annual income of less than $62,000 qualify for free online tax filing with MyFreeTaxes, which provides step-by-step support to help you file your state and federal taxes online. Most people using this free service are finished in less than an hour.
Rebecca Thompson is the Volunteer & Tax Site Manager with United Way of Northeast Florida's RealSense initiative. She has worked in the VITA field for the last 6 tax seasons and has experience in managing VITA programs at both a smaller United Way (North Central Florida in Gainesville) and the larger, metropolitan program in Jacksonville, which is the ninth largest VITA program in the country. Through her experience, she has employed and shared several best practices in program and volunteer management. Most recently, Rebecca has been named to the Taxpayer Opportunity Network Steering Committee, where she has the opportunity to strengthen and influence policies and practices for Community Tax Field nationally.