I used to think that New Year’s resolutions were a waste of time. Okay, I’ll admit that this is partly due to my low success rate when it came to my own resolutions!
But a few years ago, I decided to change my approach. I started making financial resolutions that were specific and easy to break down into steps. This kept it simple and it was easy to stay motivated.
In 2017, make a vow that you’ll stay on top of your credit life. Here are five low-stress resolutions that will help you make 2017 a financially successful year. Seriously, they’re extremely easy!
Resolution #1: Look at your free credit reports
Did the word “free” get your attention? There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free credit report.
There are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You are entitled to a free credit report from each bureau once every 12 months. The official website to get your reports is AnnualCreditReport.com.
You can ask for all three at one time or spread it out. I look at one every four months. This helps me keep an eye on fraud throughout the year. It’s not foolproof, for sure. But it’s a good way to get an overview of your credit history throughout the year.
Okay, so what exactly are you looking for? You’re reviewing your reports to make sure there are no errors. You’re also looking for new accounts that you didn’t open. Being diligent about checking your credit reports can help you stop identity fraud in the early stages.
Resolution #2: Pay your bills on time
The foundation for a great credit score begins by paying your bills on time. And not just your credit card bill; you must pay all of your bills on time.
Payment history accounts for a whopping 35% of your FICO score. If you do find yourself unable to pay a bill, call your creditor and try to work something out. If you ignore it, your late payment can end up on your credit report. When it becomes severely delinquent, your debt could be sold to a debt collection agency. When that hits your credit report, it will really trash your score.
So do what it takes to stay current with bills. There are some terrific smartphone apps and online money management tools that can help you stay on top of things. Do a little research and choose options that you feel comfortable with.
Resolution #3: Check your accounts online often
With the chip technology pretty widespread at this point, online fraud is expected to increase. Before chips, fraudsters could easily clone magnetic-stripe credit cards. Now that chips have made cloning difficult, hackers are simply gravitating toward the path of least resistance.
So take the time to check your accounts online several times a week. When you check an online account, you want to look for unauthorized purchases. Be alert to small amounts, too, because a fraudster often sends through a small transaction to see if the account is live. And look at the current balance to make sure it aligns with what you think the balance should be.
Most major credit cards offer a way to get text alerts on purchases made with your credit card. There are many options out there to help you keep track of purchases made with your card.
Resolution #4: Don’t get dazzled by sign-up bonuses
It’s so easy to justify a new credit card. Maybe you like to travel and you see an offer for a rewards card that has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points. You’re probably thinking, “Why not?” You can open an account and get a big bonus right off the bat.
Well, for one thing, you have to earn the sign-up bonus. For a high-end rewards card, you might have to spend about $3,000 or $4,000 within the first three months of opening the account. Now, if the card offers the type of rewards that match your spending pattern, then it could be a good deal.
But remember that many of the best rewards credit cards also have annual fees. Many of these cards waive the annual fee for the first year. If you do decide that a new credit card is the right thing for you and the fee isn’t waived, then make a call and ask for that.
Resolution #5: Make a dent in your debt
I know I promised “extremely easy” resolutions for you, so don’t freak out on me. I know from personal experience that getting rid of debt can be complicated, especially if you don’t have the monthly cash flow to cover your bills. I’m not suggesting that getting rid of debt is easy.
This resolution is about taking that first step toward financial freedom. If you have debt, make a decision to start paying off your debt in 2017. Right now, you’re wasting money paying interest. That’s a depressing way to live.
You might not believe this, but once you start seeing the total amount of your debt go down, your adrenaline will kick in and keep you going. This will help you feel motivated to persevere and take back your financial freedom.
In the meantime, stop using your credit cards. You can’t wipe out your debt if you’re still adding to it. Once you pay off your debt, you can decide if you should use credit cards again. For now, though, stay focused on visualizing a debt-free life.