By: Charlestien Harris
By now, you have wished “Happy New Year” to all your family, friends, and colleagues. Now that you have accomplished that, it is time to enter the new year with a fresh outlook on your finances for 2024!
So often, we look back and say, “I want to do better this year” in our lives, careers, and finances. A new year brings a new chance to make some changes, right? Well, sometimes we have the best intentions, but we never really get around to making those changes we say we are going to make. If you don’t begin to make some of those changes you talked about, then your finances will most likely be in the same shape they were at the end of 2023.
I have a few suggestions below that might help you start the new year off with a step in the right direction.
- Check your W-4 withholding amount. Tax season will be upon us in just a few weeks! Southern Bancorp prepares a great number of free tax returns for the communities we serve, and one of the issues I see most often is that the taxpayer does not have enough taxes taken out of their income during the year, which often results in them owing the IRS instead of receiving a refund. You can adjust the amount you want withheld from your check by contacting your human resources department and requesting to complete a new W-4 to make changes. For further information from the IRS, visit https://www.irsvideos.gov/Business/Employers/UnderstandingTheNewFormW-4 to see a copy of the new W-4 and to watch a video explaining the purpose and function of this form.
- Increase your contribution to your 401k retirement plan. Retirement is a subject that many of us dream about from our first day of work until our last. Why live in a nightmare when you can live out your golden years by doing some careful planning now to prepare for that dream life you so desire to have? Most retirement plans offer an automatic withholding percentage approved by the employee. Some employers will even match your contribution up to a certain percentage amount; take advantage of this perk if your employer plan offers this option. Match money is funds your employer contributes to your retirement account in addition to the amount you are contributing. Put simply, a 401(k)-employer match program is essentially free money for you.
- Open a savings account for a specific goal. Remember, in the last part of 2023, I mentioned that setting goals is a huge part of enjoying financial success. One of the steps you can take is to open your specific savings account now for events such as vacations, holidays, college, and retirement, just to name a few. Making these adjustments early in the year will help you be more prepared for those events. Having the funds automatically withdrawn from your checking account can help you “set it and forget it.” So, when those expected events finally materialize, you will already have the funds to spend without worrying about how you are going to cover them.
- Choose a debt reduction strategy. Debt is probably weighing heavily on some of your minds since the holiday season has come and gone. But all is not lost. You can still get a handle on your debt by deciding how you want to tackle getting out of debt or reducing the amount of debt you are in. The two most popular methods are the low-balance method and the high-interest method. With these two strategies, you’re simply focusing on which debts to pay off first. The low-balance method, or “snowball,” is the most popular because you can start off with your smaller debts and pay them off first, then tackle your next highest amounts, and so on until you have eliminated all your debts. The high-interest method, or “avalanche,” involves paying off your accounts with the highest interest rates first, then tackling your smaller debts later. Your high-interest accounts are costing you the most money because over time you are accumulating debt by allowing interest to build up on the outstanding balance of those accounts. Whichever one you choose, make sure to always make at least minimum payments on the rest of your balances.
- Check your credit scores and reports. Credit is another essential part of your financial health, so it’s best to keep an eye on it. You want to check your credit at least every few months and give your credit reports a good look every year. This will give you a good idea of how your credit is doing and will allow you to notice any warning signs of fraud. I always suggest getting a copy of your report in January, then June/July, and one around the end of the year. Seeing a credit card in your name that you haven’t opened or a debt that doesn’t belong to you can be stressful. It’s time to investigate, dispute those errors, and potentially even freeze your credit. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau every week until further notice. You can request them at www.annualcreditreport.com. Currently, free weekly online credit reports are also available.
This money stuff isn’t always easy, but with a little forethought, you too can make it through the new year in better financial shape than you were last year. Whether or not you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2024, I suggest you take a serious look at this financial list to ensure you are taking some extra steps to improve your finances in the coming year. Your new financial picture starts with you and the kind of future you see for yourself and those you care about. Unlike many resolutions that require constant vigilance, such as dieting or exercising, you only need to take a few steps to improve your financial health and security in 2024!
Until next week – stay financially fit!