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MoneyNav Bootcamp: Getting Your Finances in Shape [Part One]

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Did you know that April is National Financial Literacy Month? Its purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of financial literacy and educate people on the significance of establishing and maintaining healthy financial habits. As financial advisors, we wholeheartedly support taking these steps, and what better time of year than FLM to start working out your finances?  

Taking the leap towards financial freedom can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Over the next few weeks, we will break down the Financial Literacy Month’s (FLM) “Thirty Steps to Financial Wellness” into a four-part series we’re calling MoneyNav Bootcamp. These posts will outline basic steps to take in order to begin revamping your financial life, managing challenges along the way, and staying motivated. Let’s get started! 

Week #1 of MoneyNav Bootcamp: Where to Begin

In order to make sure you’re developing a plan that will work long-term, it’s important to start out on the right foot. The following steps will provide you with a strong financial foundation and make it easier down the road to gauge what areas you’re excelling in and where you need to improve. It will also set the stage for creating future goals to work towards.  

Step #1 – Commit to change: Committing to change is a huge step, and it’s easier said than done. Commitment shows that you are motivated, disciplined, and eager to change bad financial habits. One way to begin to do this is to make a list of all the ways becoming more financially conscious will help you. This list can include anything, big or small; The important thing is to start painting a picture of what better money management can do for yourself.

Step #2 – Assess your financial situation: To begin assessing your financial situation, you have to do things like sit down and go through the stack of bills that maybe you’ve been ignoring for a while (maybe a long while), reassess your monthly budget and take a deeper look at your long-term savings plan.

As the saying goes, “don’t put off tomorrow, what can be done today,” so take a deep breath and start by doing an annual review of your entire financial picture. It’s extremely difficult to come up with achievable long-term goals or fix existing problems without a clear assessment of your current standing. This step can definitely be overwhelming but start with this handy self-assessment quiz. If you feel like diving deeper, take a look at some of our favorite online financial tools. 

Step #3 – Clearing out Financial Clutter: How organized you are can have a big impact on committing to financial change. With everything from bills, receipts, tax documents, and more, it can make it hard for you to keep track of everything and know for sure that you’re reaching significant milestones. Refer to the FLM website to know what can and can’t be tossed to give your finances a good spring cleaning.

Don’t forget to properly destroy any documents with identifying information like your name, birth date, and social security number, which can make you a target for identity theft. Make sure you protect yourself because it’s nothing worse than taking steps forward only to encounter another obstacle.

Step #4 – Set Yourself Up for Success: Fortune 500 companies don’t have to be the only ones with a Chief Financial Officer; it’s encouraged, in order to be successful, that a “family CFO” be appointed. No matter your situation, whether you are single, married with kids at home, or retired, take this opportunity to hold a meeting to address the state of the family finances, the short- and long-term goals, and what everyone’s role should be. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to teach your children about financial responsibility and introduce them to good habits early.

Step #5 – Get copies of your credit reports: How frequently do you review your credit scores or your credit reportYour credit report is a document that provides a snapshot of your creditworthiness from the three major credit bureaus. Typically, it will include the following items:

  • Identifying Information: Name, address, Social Security number, DOB, and employment information are used to identify you but do not contribute to your actual credit score.
  • Tradelines: This section includes all of your existing credit accounts from savings accounts to student loans to credit card debt and everything in between. On the report, it will state the type of account, date it was opened the credit limit or loan amount, existing balance, and your payment history. 
  • Credit Inquiries: An “inquiry” means you have given permission to a lender to view your report and that is how they end up showing up on your report. Inquiries from the last two years will be seen here and are divided up into two categories: Voluntary (requests you’ve given your permission for) and Involuntary (like when a lender checks your credit in order to send you a “pre-approved” offer in the mail). 
  • Public Record and Collections: Agencies dig into public records from state and county courts in order to find out if you have any unpaid debt in collections, bankruptcies, foreclosures, judgments, etc. 

It also shows any fraudulent activity that can affect your credit, so it’s important to get copies of your credit reports and evaluate them for errors and discrepancies that can reflect an inaccurate score. No matter how overwhelming your debt maybe, make a point to be aware of your creditworthiness. Sometimes increasing your line of credit can combat your debt, but this can only be a viable option if you know what your credit score is.

Step #6 – Clean up your credit report: Make sure you know your rights and understand how the Annual Credit Report compiles your information to generate your credit report and its scores. You want to know what to look for in case you need to correct an error, which is fairly common.  If you were thorough, when applying step three (de-clutter), then this step shouldn’t be more than reviewing corresponding documents. If you find that you need to dispute an incorrect line item, you can either write a letter with a copy of the documentation to corroborate your claim or fill out an online dispute form, depending on which credit bureau you are bringing the claim against. If you’d rather have assistance with a trained professional, go to MoneyMangement.org, and they will help you clean up your credit report all while explaining the in’s and out’s.

Step #7 – Make Your Money Count: For younger generations, imagining a better outlook of your financial future this early on, might be hard to do, but going over your income and expenses will help paint a better picture of what a financially savvy you will look like. Review your streams of income, where it comes from, and how much you earn, and if you’re really up for the challenge try to project what those income streams will look like three to six months from now. Take advantage of FLM’s Income Worksheet or our very own customizable Spending Plan to create a baseline and see your total monthly income. This is will help you figure out how to tackle your debt, but we’ll save that for the next post.

MoneyNav Bootcamp Week #1 Round-Up

Financial Literacy Month has provided us with some great stepping stones to managing money. Let’s recap:

 

 



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