We're early into a new year and many consumers have made resolutions to better manage their finances. So, how's that working out?
Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) says many of these well-intentioned resolutions have already fallen by the wayside because consumers lack a solid strategy for achieving their goals.
NFCC offers three simple steps consumers can easily implement that will put them on the road to financial stability:
Many are paralyzed by their situation, frozen in a state of financial anxiety. Others feel that they are in such deep financial trouble that there is no real help available. Some may fear that they'll reach out for help to the wrong organization, thus ending up worse off than when they began.
Failure to act only makes matters worse, as the problem isn't going to cure itself. Likewise, delaying action only makes the situation more difficult to resolve. Consumers owe it to themselves and their family to sit down with a Certified Credit Counselor at a legitimate nonprofit agency. These counselors are trained to do a thorough review of the situation and provide concrete solutions, ones that can mean the difference between financial failure and financial success.
Make technology your friend by signing up for direct deposit, automatic bill paying and online banking. You can avoid ever having a late fee by arranging credit card payments to be sent automatically before the statement due date each month, making sure the payment amount equals at least the minimum amount due.
You can always circle back and pay the balance in full, but knowing the bill has been paid on time brings you peace of mind and avoids negative dings on your credit report and score. Direct deposit helps to avoid the long lines at the bank on payday, as well as providing a degree of safety since the paycheck can't be stolen from an unattended mailbox. Further, the surest way to save is to have money automatically deposited into a savings account before you ever see it.
People are well-intentioned justifiers. Financial accountability starts with financial honesty. If you find that you have more excuses than money in the bank, enlist the support of an accountability partner. Make sure this person is someone you're comfortable revealing your financial dirty laundry to, is someone you respect enough to follow their advice, and is strong enough to speak the truth to you.
It may be tempting to pick someone who is in the same financial shape as you, but that type of relationship often ends up being a two-person pity party. Instead, find someone who is a responsible money manager and is willing to share those skills with you.
"Know that small steps can equal big rewards," said Cunningham. "The process starts with a person resolving to take charge of his or her financial future. After that, it's a matter of executing the plan."