During tax season, many of us spend a great deal of time focusing on our finances -- and we're not always happy with what we see. According to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation's National Financial Capability Study, only 24% of U.S. adults surveyed reported being very satisfied with their current financial condition.
No matter the season, now is the time to take stock of your finances. Here are some tips you can use.
1. Take advantage of tax breaks when you save. Saving through tax-advantaged accounts is smart. In addition to potential tax benefits, there is an opportunity for your savings to compound over time. Consider using a tax-advantaged savings account for college saving, such as a 529 Plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account. And contribute to a retirement plan that offers tax benefits, like a 401(k) or IRA. When it comes to retirement savings, try to save the maximum amount in 2014.
2. Get a grip on saving versus spending. Almost 20% of Americans surveyed reported spending more than they make. Tackle monthly spending by taking time to calculate monthly cash flows. This can help you avoid another expense: overdrawing your checking account. Overdraft fees can add up. To protect yourself, keep close tabs on your bank balances and opt out of programs that automatically approve ATM and debit card transactions.
3. Dial back your debt. Sound borrowing practices and management of financial products are crucial to financial capability. Many of us carry a balance on a credit card and pay interest each month -- and more than one in three credit card holders reported paying only the minimum due. The good news is that almost half of surveyed credit card holders always paid their credit cards in full. If you can't, at least pay more than the minimum due. Every dollar you pay above the minimum payment can dramatically reduce the amount of interest you will pay.
4. Plan for known -- and unknown -- expenses. Being able to weather unexpected financial shocks greatly contributes to your own financial stability. One of the best things you can do to control your financial future is start an emergency fund. Only 40% of American adults surveyed have set aside sufficient emergency savings to cover expenses for three months in the case of sickness, job loss, economic downturn, or other emergencies. To get started, aim to set aside at least one month (and preferably three to six months) of your current salary in a federally insured savings account -- and don't touch it unless absolutely necessary.
5. Resolve to keep learning. Financial literacy strongly correlates with behavior that is indicative of financial capability, including planning for retirement, having emergency savings, and minimizing credit card fees. Research every financial product before taking the plunge -- from credit card offers to investments and loans. And comparison shop, as you would with any important purchase.
For more information about saving and investing, visit the investors section of FINRA.org.
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