If you started 2016 off by setting some financial goals for yourself, now’s a great time to gauge your progress. Figuring at where you’re at can give you an idea of what you need to do next to stay on track. If it’s been awhile since you’ve done a financial check-in, here are most important things to put on your to-do list.
1. Check your credit report
If one of your goals for the year is to buy a home, a great credit score is a must for making it happen. There are lots of different scores out there but the FICO score is the one most lenders use when making approval decisions. Your FICO score is shaped by the information that’s listed on your credit report and if you haven’t peeked at yours lately, you may be costing yourself points.
One free copy of your credit report is available from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can pull all three at once but if you want to keep an eye on your credit throughout the year, you’re better off getting one every four months. Once you’ve got your report, you’ll want to make sure all of your accounts are listed correctly, look for any errors in your information and check for signs of potential fraud.
You can also get access to your credit score for free if you know where to look. There are a number of credit card companies, for example, that give you your score free once a month. You can also view it at no cost through the Mint.com budgeting app or a credit monitoring service like Credit Karma.
2. Reevaluate your retirement plan
Saving for retirement should be right near the top of your financial goals list. If you’ve been saving in a 401(k), IRA or similar plan, you should regularly be looking at your earnings and what kind of fees you’re paying. If you’ve been sinking money into a mutual fund that’s not performing all that well or administrative costs are eating up all your growth, it’s time to think about changing your investment strategy.
Aside from looking at your portfolio as a whole, you should also consider what you’re putting into the plan. For example, if your goal is to contribute the max to your 401(k), you need to be sure that you’re deferring enough of your salary. If you have to bump up your contributions by a percentage point or two, you’ll need to run the numbers to see how that’s going to affect your take-home pay to make sure you can afford it.
3. Calculate what your debt is costing you
Even if you’ve made a plan for paying off a big chunk of your debt this year, you should still be on the lookout for ways to improve it. Checking in periodically to see how much interest you’re paying and whether it’s possible to score better rates on what you owe.
If credit cards are the problem, transferring the balances to a card with a 0 percent promotional rate may be the answer. You’ll save money and be able to get the debt paid off faster. Just keep in mind that you’ll pay a fee to transfer a balance, which is typically around 3 percent. That comes to $30 for every $1,000 you transfer.
When the interest on your student loans is making it impossible to get ahead, consolidating or refinancing can make them more affordable. If you’re consolidating federal loans, your rate is calculated as the average of the different rates each loan carries. With private loans, you have the option of refinancing to a fixed or variable rate. Be aware that you’ll need a cosigner to refinance private loans if you don’t have great credit.
Tip: If you’re juggling both federal and private loans, you can keep track of them all in one place using an app like Student Loan Hero or Tuition.io.
4. Take a look at your tax situation
Even though tax season just ended, it’s not too soon to start planning ahead for next year. If you had to pay a huge bill or received a refund, that’s a sign that you need to review your withholding to make sure your employer is taking the right amount of taxes out of your check. When you’re not withholding enough, you’ll end up owing and if you’re taking out too much, you’re basically giving the government an interest-free loan.
Aside from checking your withholding, you should also be looking at what you can do to take advantage of tax credits and deductions, both of which can reduce what you have to pay to Uncle Sam.
For example, someone who’s in their 20s and has just started saving for retirement may be eligible for the saver’s credit. If you’re still paying on student loans or you’ve got a mortgage, the interest you’re paying is generally tax-deductible. Looking for ways to save on next year’s tax bill now can keep you from having to scramble once December rolls around.
Tip: If you’ve got your most recent pay stub, you can plug the information into the IRS Withholding Calculator, along with your estimated deductions to see if you’re on track for the year.
If you’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning with your finances, we’d love to hear about it. Tell us what you think the most important financial check-in moves are in the comments.