Did you resolve to achieve greater financial health in your life this year? Maybe you want to save for a large purchase, pay down credit card debt, speed up the road to retirement, or simply start spending less than you earn. No matter what you want to accomplish with your money this year, no doubt it will require some serious commitment. Unfortunately, financial well-being is not something that happens overnight. We’ve created this guide full of financial health tips for 2021 you can follow month-by-month to help you stay on track all year long.
Starting the year off right begins with getting a clear picture of your current financial state. It also helps you choose the actions you might need to take that will make the biggest difference. Take our simple 12-question quiz to see how financially healthy you are and what goals you can set to get on a path for improvement. Or take this quick 10-question survey developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to receive your personal financial well-being score. Compare your score with others’ by age, household income, and employment status, and discover ways to take the next steps—either on your own, or with free, personalized advice.
February is the perfect month to go on a money date. This is where you set aside special time with your significant other to specifically talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of your personal and joint finances. Log all your debts. Share your credit reports. Calculate your current and potential income. Review your budget (or decide to make one), and re-evaluate your emergency funds and available credit. It’s also a good time to talk about your financial values and discuss how you’ll approach long-term goals such as saving up for your child’s college education (read about 529 savings plans), or planning for retirement.
Seventy percent of all taxpayers are eligible to use Free File software and e-file for free with both the federal government and some states. The IRS offers information about how to file your taxes for free or get volunteer tax preparation help if you need it. If you earn too much income to be eligible to use the free software, you can still complete your federal returns online. There’s even a mobile app, IRS2Go.
The average federal tax refund check last year was around $2,500. If you think you’ll get money back this year, try one or more of these 5 smart ways to use your tax refund. Some people have taken to “forcing savings” by having more withheld from their paychecks than is required—landing them a larger refund each Spring. Or, maybe you want more money in each paycheck, not less. You could use that extra money in your pocket to pay down the principal on your mortgage or other debts. Either way, think it through and submit a new W-4 to your employer.
This is also a good time to review your personal loan tax strategies for the year ahead. Did you miss some deductions due to missing receipts? Did you incur penalties because you didn’t take minimum distributions from retirement savings accounts? This is the perfect time to invest some energy into creating a better system.
Did you know that money you put into a 529 college savings plan is typically tax-free savings at the federal (and sometimes state) level? And it remains untaxed when withdrawn to pay for studies. You can either purchase credits from a college or university in advance directly, to protect your student from tuition increases, or put the money into an investment account.
But 529 plans are not for everyone. For instance, your child must attend an eligible institution. And you may not want to tie up money in a 529 plan if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, carrying high debt balances, have no emergency fund, or have nothing saved for retirement.
This month talk to your teen about all the ways to pay for higher ed: scholarships, work-study jobs, family loans, and (as a last resort) student loans can help pay for college when used responsibly.
Long days, mild weather, and kids off from school make summer a good time to catch up on work around the house. Take a look at our list of 5 home improvements with exceptional ROI. When you can save up the money in advance you can avoid taking on new debt. Or you can try applying for a personal loan with payments that will fit your budget. And beware of putting large expenses on high-interest rate credit cards if they will take more than a month or two to pay off.
Followers of the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement strive for complete financial freedom—earning and investing enough income to stop working for a paycheck in their thirties or forties. The goal? To spend the years before they turn 65 doing what they love most: traveling, volunteering, or living simply without financial pressure or uncertainty. Whether or not FIRE works for you, studying it’s principles can help you have a healthier relationship with your finances.
Making smart investments is a pillar of financial planning for retirement at any age. Seeking out professional investment advice can help you make good choices.
Many students and grads are weighed down with multiple loans, with multiple bills to juggle each month. If you have federal loans, you can choose between 5 different types of repayment plans. Private loans offer different interest rates and terms, usually less favorable than those guaranteed by the government. Or you can try refinancing your student loans and consolidate multiple balances into one loan with a fixed interest rate and fixed term. And having just one bill to pay each month makes for much less complicated personal finances.
If you have an auto loan and your vehicle is under 10 years old, take a little time this month to see how much you could save by refinancing your auto loan. You might be able to lower your car payment, lower your interest rate, or both. Try using our auto refinance calculator to quickly compare your savings. Or if you’re looking for a new car, the next few months are considered the most popular times to buy. Many dealers offer blow-out pricing on current year models starting October through December.
The end of the year always comes around fast. Before things get busy once the holidays arrive in full force, take care of those personal finance tasks that are easy to forget or postpone, like reviewing the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies. This is also a great month to request a credit report and do an annual review. Check out our blog for a year-end financial checklist.
Americans accumulated an average of $1,381 in holiday debt last year (an increase over the previous year)—and a majority were still paying it five months later. Be like Santa: Make a list and check it twice because buying on impulse can lead to over consumption and over spending. Instead, learn new ways to save money while enjoying the holidays, including how to skip Black Friday.
Making financial New Year’s resolutions is easy. Sticking to them throughout the year requires serious commitment—so keep it simple. First, evaluate your financial situation. Then, pick just one or two financial goals to focus on. Brainstorm ways to keep yourself on track such as automating monthly payments or contributions to savings accounts. Plan to reward yourself in small ways when you hit important milestones like hitting a targeted amount in your emergency savings account.