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New year, new financial goals: If you're starting off the new decade with a list of resolutions, consider adding some financial to-dos, such as improving your credit score and making a plan to pay off your credit card debt once and for all.
Nearly half (49%) of Americans want to save more money in 2020, another third (33%) want to improve their credit score and plan on creating a personal budget (31%), according to an Experian poll on the top financial resolutions for 2020.
Determining your goals is a great starting point to improving your finances, and the next step is to take action. Below, Select shares the top 10 financial New Year's resolutions from Experian's study and offers advice on how you can achieve them.
- Save more (49%)
- Improve my credit score (33%)
- Create a personal budget (31%)
- Pay off a credit card entirely (26%)
- Pay my credit card debt on time (24%)
- Pay my full credit card balance each month (21%)
- Not open any more credit cards (20%)
- Check my credit score more often (15%)
- Check my credit report more often (13%)
- Sign up for a credit monitoring or identity theft protection product (8%)
Unsurprisingly, the top financial resolution is to save more money. There are nearly countless ways to go about this — you can increase your 401(k) contributions, set up automatic transfers to a high-yield savings account and cut back on unnecessary spending, especially during holiday shopping season.
You can also use a credit card to your advantage. Many of the best cards offer competitive rewards and statement credits that can earn you cash back, points or miles that can be used to offset purchases. For example, the American Express® Gold Card offers an annual $120 dining credit ($10 a month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations.
If you have a less than stellar credit (scores below 700), make it a priority to raise it in 2020. You can improve your credit score in several ways, including: paying your bills on time and in full (which may include setting up autopay), paying off debt, limiting how many new accounts you open and cutting back on spending.
Check out the best credit cards for building credit.
For some, a budget can feel constricting, but tracking your spending can be a useful tool to help you understand where your money goes each month. A clear budget can help you set guidelines for what you can afford to spend and help you identify areas where you could cut back.
Start by writing down all your fixed expenses, such as rent/mortgage, cell phone, groceries and savings. Then you can see how much money you have leftover for flexible expenses, such as restaurants, clothing and entertainment costs. Looking at your credit card statement can be an easy way to see all your purchases in one place. And most cards give you an opportunity to review your total annual spending by category, which is very helpful when you're setting up a budget for the new year.
If you're struggling with credit card debt, you're not alone. In fact, about 61% of Americans have a credit card and cardholders carry an average balance of $6,194, according to Experian. So it's not surprising that so many people are looking to pay off credit card debt in the new year.
If you have credit card debt, consider consolidating it on a balance transfer credit card, which offer no interest for up to 21 months. The Citi Simplicity® Card, for example, has a 0% APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers and 0% intro APR for the first 12 months on new purchases (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR). Balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening.
While balance transfers can help you get out of debt, you get the most benefit if you pay off your balance before the intro period ends. Before you make a balance transfer, take time to familiarize yourself with the terms associated with your offer. That includes the expiration date of the interest-free period.
Once you know when your intro 0% APR period ends, create a plan to make significant payments toward your debt throughout the intro period so you're on track to be debt free by the time it ends.
Payment history is the most important factor of your credit score, which makes it essential to pay your balance on time and in full every month. Paying your whole balance not only helps improve your credit by reducing your utilization rate (the amount of credit you're using compared to the amount of credit you have available), but it also reduces interest charges or fees that may result from carrying debt from month to month.
While there's no one-size-fits-all answer to how many credit cards you should have, the average American has four. That doesn't mean one card is too few or six cards is too many. It all depends on how many credit cards you can manage responsibly.
However, it's important to note that every time you apply for a credit card — whether you're approved or denied — the card issuer pulls your credit report. These inquiries can negatively affect your credit score, but it will bounce back over time.
There are numerous resources that allow you to check your credit score for free, such as Discover's Credit Scorecard, CreditWise from Capital One and Chase's Credit Journey. You can receive an updated credit score every month and see the factors that influence your score. Some sites may even have a simulator that shows you the potential effect of certain actions, like missing a payment or paying off debt.
It's important to regularly check your credit report so you can spot fraud early and ensure the correct information is reported to the credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. There are many resources available so you can get a free credit report as often as once a month, such as CreditWise from Capital One and Experian.
You can also access one free credit report from each of the main credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com, which is authorized by federal law.
Credit monitoring and identity theft protection can help alert you of possible fraud, but many come with monthly costs. If you don't want to pay for credit monitoring services, there are free services available, such as CreditWise from Capital One. CreditWise tracks your social security number and scans the dark web for your personal information, then sends automatic alerts. Another option is to frequently check your credit score and monitor your credit report monthly for any suspicious information.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
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