Now that the cold, dark winter is over (sort of), it’s time to throw open the shutters and take a look at your finances in the spring light. Maybe you haven’t been making progress toward your goal, or you want to up your savings even more, or make sure your student loan payments are on track. Whatever the case, here’s your periodic reminder to mind your money.
We take spring cleaning very seriously at Lifehacker. Far be it from us to let an opportunity to refresh, reorganize, and declutter our homes lives pass us by. We’re also pretty psyched to hit the reset button on our tech usage, take a close look at our finances, and give the heave-ho to the day-to-day habits that have gotten a little musty. Welcome to Spring Cleaning Week, wherein we clear the cobwebs of winter and set the stage for sunny days ahead. Let’s clean things up, shall we?
Assuming you follow all of my advice to the letter, and I know that you do, you’ve been routinely scheduling Personal Inventory Days. Use your April (or May, if April’s has already passed) PID to take stock of your financial life.
Specifically, here’s what to put on your Financial Spring Cleaning list.
File Your Taxes
And as I wrote yesterday, you still have time to max out your IRA contributions (if you qualify) to get a slight tax break (but you’ll have to do it ASAP). So take advantage of it.
If you get a tax refund after you complete your taxes and don’t have any pressing financial needs, stock some of it in your emergency savings, and use some to pay down any debt you have. With interest rates rising bit by bit, I’d focus on your credit card debt.
Another option: Call and ask for a lower rate. As I wrote about here, it’s likely that the only thing keeping you from paying less in interest is picking up the phone.
And if you have student loans, make sure you’re in the best repayment track for your situation. Call your servicer and ask about your options, and do some research on your own (the government’s website, StudentAid.gov, is a tremendous resource) to determine if an alternate payment method would work better for you.
Up Your Security
Last year’s Equifax hack put security in the spotlight, but it’s important to stay vigilant even now, when the headlines have slowed. As I wrote before, if you were impacted by the breach, you may want to:
- Put a fraud alert on your accounts
- Freeze your credit (at all three bureaus) unless you’re going to buy a home, car, etc. soon
- Consider paying for identity theft protection services, which track loan applications made in your name as well as activity on the dark web
You’ll want to pull your free credit reports throughout the year to check for activity (from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and consider downloading an app like Credit Karma to track your accounts the rest of the year.
On a more basic level, watch out for emails with spelling or grammatical errors, attachments or those that push the urgency of a situation. “If the message tells you to ‘act immediately’ or else your ‘information will be at risk,’ (or something similar) delete the email,” Jonas Sickler, director of operations at ConsumerSafety.org, told NBC.
And be mindful of what you’re sending yourself. Sensitive financial information shouldn’t be emailed around. If your account gets hacked at some point, you’re in for quite a headache. If you have done so, change all of your passwords, and delete anything you’ve sent (and then empty your trash).
Finally, make sure you’re using your credit card when shopping online instead of a debit card—your credit card offers better protections.
Check in With Your Career Plan
Where are you in your career? Are you sure it’s where you want to be? What can you do to get to the next level? All of these are questions you’ll want to make time to answer every once in a while.
You can ask your boss to meet and go over how you’re doing and for any feedback they may have. Make sure you’re tracking your accomplishments in some sort of easily-accessible file. Perform a Life Audit for more clarity.
Start Planning Your Summer Trips and Activities
Do you know what you and your kids will be doing this summer? Now’s the time to make plans and start putting money aside, if you can. “When planning ahead it allows the ability to secure a hotel or campground at a discount, plan meals ahead of time rather than eat every meal at a restaurant, and seek out activities in advance that are free or discounted,” writes Ben Wacek, a Certified Financial Planner.
You don’t want to be caught off guard by an extra camp fee or miss out on a weekend beach trip because you didn’t plan ahead. And of course, you’ll have a better, less stressful time if you start planning now.
Alicia Adamczyk on Two Cents, shared by Alicia Adamczyk to Lifehacker
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