Jar full of hundred dollar bills

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Much is said and written about the need to set financial goals. But what if you're just starting out? Perhaps your experience saving money has been limited to putting money in a jar. Maybe you've never invested a penny.

But now you know it's time you do something with your finances. And you know goals are important.

Which goals should you set -- and why? Here are four specific goals for those who are new to saving and investing. They are sound (we'll explain why), and they can help you lay a strong financial foundation for the rest of your life.

  1. Review your credit report and credit score. This one is easy and can be done in a few minutes. Request your free annual credit report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or calling (877)322-8228. You can -- and should -- also get your credit scores from the three major credit bureaus (for which there is generally a charge).

    Why? Because reading your credit report lets you see what potential lenders see. It can also help you spot signs of identity theft. As for your credit score, it's a key factor in determining how much you will pay to borrow money. Scores range from approximately 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better the terms of credit you are likely to receive. Good credit management leads to higher credit scores, which in turn lower your cost to borrow.

  2. Put aside money in an emergency fund. This starts by opening a savings account at a bank or credit union expressly for the purpose of putting money away for a rainy day.

    Why? Because an emergency fund helps you deal with unplanned expenses (a car repair, for instance), rather than putting these expenses on a credit card or being forced to cut corners or go without. There's another benefit: You start saving on a regular basis at a bank -- an essential financial habit.

  3. Save and invest 10% of what you make. The easiest way to accomplish this is through an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Enroll, if you haven't already -- and contribute at a double-digit level. If your company doesn't offer a way to save, open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or myRA (or both). Most retirement saving accounts offer balanced funds (with a combination of stocks and bonds) to help you diversify your investments and lifecycle funds that help reduce risk as you age.

    Why? Because many investment professionals believe that saving 10% is the minimum you need to save to ensure a comfortable retirement. Chances are you'll need to increase the amount you are currently saving (3% of salary is often the norm for many employees), well short of what is likely needed down the retirement road.

  4. Read one book on personal finance. Pick a book that speaks to where you are in your life (for instance, if you're in your 20s and just starting out, read a book geared to millennials just beginning to save and invest). If you prefer to have a book read to you, start with an audio book. Just get started.

    Why? Because we all have to start somewhere when it comes to learning about a new subject. Books about personal finance tend to touch on an array of valuable financial areas, from investing to life insurance, and each area is worth learning about. Chances are, you'll find the book far more interesting, and more understandable, than you thought it would be.

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