In the midst of a busy schedule, many people forget to step back and take stock of their financial situation on a regular basis. But the California Society of CPAs (www.calcpa.org) recommends doing a financial check up at least annually to be sure that you’re making smart choices with your money and staying on track to meet your near- and long-term financial goals.
Check Your Credit Scores
All consumers have the right to receive a free credit report every year from each of the three credit rating agencies. It’s important to keep tabs on your score because it is used by lenders to make decisions about whether you should be given a loan and how high the interest should be. A high score will put you in a better position to qualify for loans and lower borrowing costs. To see your report, you can contact each of the three main agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) or access them all through www.annualcreditreport.com.
Checking your reports is important to ensure there are no inaccuracies and to spot potential identity theft if there is unexplained activity on your account. It also may be a good wake-up call to let you know that you need to address your high debts or bad payment history if they have taken a toll on your credit score.
No matter what stage you are in life — just starting out in a new job or at the peak of your career — you should be putting away at least a little something in a retirement account on a regular basis. If your employer offers a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan and matches your contributions to it, keep in mind that you are actually losing money by not taking advantage of the matching funds the company offers.
In addition, be aware that accumulating a retirement nest egg over time is much easier than trying to save an unrealistic amount in a hurry during the years right before you quit working. Saving over a long period gives your money a better chance to grow over time. There are also many tax-advantaged options for retirement savings that you may be missing. If you want to learn more about the best retirement savings options, remember that your CPA can help.
Keep To Your Budget
Unfortunately, for many people it’s tough to stick to a budget because they don’t actually have one. But that’s easily remedied by listing your regular monthly costs — everything including rent or mortgage, utilities, car payments, commuting costs, grocery expenses and more — and deducting them from your regular take home pay.
If you end up with a negative amount, then it’s time to make some cutbacks so you can live within your income. If you have a little bit left over but you’d like to have more, you can take many steps. First, flag all the items on your expense list that could be cut back. If you still end up short of cash, begin keeping a daily log of all you spend. You may be surprised at how much you’re dropping on impulse purchases or costly indulgences, like a daily macchiato or takeout meals.
Continue keeping a close eye on what you spend and you’ll probably be amazed at how much you can cut back. And don’t forget to pay yourself by including a savings contribution in your monthly budget.
Your CPA Can Help
Want more great ideas about the best ways to improve your financial health and ensure you’re making the best financial decisions? Turn to your local CPA. He or she can provide the advice you need to maintain your financial fitness.
The Money Management columns are a joint effort of the AICPA and the California Society of CPAs as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.