Making New Year’s resolutions is easy. Keeping them is hard. Many resolutions involve health: losing weight, getting more exercise, eating a healthier diet. Taking care of your financial health is just as important — and it may in fact be easier.
The biggest financial news of the year was certainly the passage of the Republican tax plan. The effect on your personal financial health will vary with your own circumstances, but here are a couple of things you might want to consider doing right now:
- Prepay your property taxes for 2018. The new tax law caps the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000. The new law intended to forbid prepaying 2018 state income tax but the wording is vague. If you can afford it, prepay some of your expected 2018 state income tax. Even if you can’t deduct it this year, you’ll be paying less next year.
- Pulling deductions forward is more valuable in 2017 than it will be in 2018 because the new tax rates will be lower next year. A charitable contribution, for example, will still be deductible next year, but if you make it this year when your tax rate is higher, the extra payment is more heavily weighted.
Now, back to those resolutions. The experts at WalletHub have created a list of 10 things you can do to improve your financial health in 2018. Here’s the list.
Monitor your credit report. Data breaches at credit reporting companies like Equifax and Experian have focused attention on taking personal responsibility for keeping an eye on your credit report. Take advantage of your right to get a free credit report and make sure there are no errors. Then sign up for free credit monitoring.
Pay bills as soon as you get your paycheck. There are two advantages to doing this: first, you’ll virtually eliminate the risk of making a late payment that can damage your credit score; and second, it lowers your credit balance, also a good thing.
Repay 20% of your outstanding credit card debt. Consider transferring your debt to a card that offers 0% financing for some period (usually 12 to 18 months) and then add this monthly payment to your stack of bills. For an average household with around $8,500 in credit card debt, a 20% reduction of $1,700 comes to a monthly payment of around $142.
Use different credit cards for different purposes. The simplest case is to use rewards card of some kind for everyday purchases and a 0% financing card for balances you carry. This is really worth the time it takes to set up.
Add a month’s pay to your emergency fund. More than half of Americans don’t have a rainy day fund to take care of emergencies. Begin building one with a monthly deposit with a goal of 12 to 18 months of take-home pay.
Improve your credit score by 20 points. The average American’s credit score is 679 out of a possible 850. That indicates that most of us have some room for improvement.
Increase your financial literacy. This doesn’t mean that you need to understand what a synthetic CDO is, but you should know the difference between the types of 401(k), for example, so you can make an informed choice about which is right for you.
Focus on your physical health. For most Americans, money is the biggest source of stress. Release some of that stress by sweating it out. WalletHub notes a study reporting that people who regularly exercise tend to have better credit scores.
Make a realistic budget and stick to it. This may seem daunting, but use your last few months’ bills to list recurring expenses, rank them in order of importance, and then see where you can save by slicing the list beginning with the items at the bottom.
Look for a better job. Boosting your income may be one of the best ways to improve your financial health. Figure out what you’re willing to do for a better-paying job (are you willing to move; is your family willing to move) and then keep your eyes open.
More details and advice are available at the WalletHub website.