New Year’s resolutions tend to look something like this: Lose 10 pounds, start working out four days a week, stop drinking coffee like it’s water or make the bed each morning. For the most part, financial changes are nowhere on that list . In fact, 80% of Americans say they didn’t focus on financial planning when making resolutions this year, according to a survey by Allianz Life, and even when they are, those resolutions tend to focus on the same old stuff. Of the people who make financial resolutions, 46% want to “save more,” 21% want to “spend less” and 19% want to “pay off debt,” a recent survey by Fidelity found.
Sure, those resolutions are great. We should all be trying to pay off debt, save more for retirement, build up six months of income in our “emergency fund” and stop wasting money on stuff we don’t need. But let’s face it: Those are resolutions most of us already know to do and many of us are already doing.
So, Mint.com asked experts to tell us about some of the less-considered, and potentially lucrative, resolutions that Americans should make this year. Hey, who says you can’t make resolutions in February!
Get new insurance policies
“People have a policy, and they often just keep it,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “But you could save hundreds of dollars a year by shopping around for auto, life, home and liability insurance.” (If you don’t have a health plan through your employer, shop around for that, too.) “One place to start is NetQuote.com,” says McBride. “As it gives you free insurance quotes for a variety of types of insurance.”
Of course, don’t just buy your policy based on rates alone — look at the coverage as well. “For homeowners insurance, for example, you should make sure your policy covers the “replacement costs” rather than just the “market value” of your home and its contents, even if this is a little more expensive,” McBride advises. This is important considering the current housing market downturn, which has lowered home values, and the fact that “market value” of your stuff often won’t provide you with enough money to replace the items since it factors in depreciation.
Earn extra cash
OK, so your company isn’t exactly giving out raises right now. It might even feel more like more work for the same pay. There are ways to earn more cash in your spare time, which is a great way to help with that “get out of debt” goal. “Create your own job,” says Willie Jolly, the best-selling author of “Turn Setbacks into Greenbacks.” In fact, “The income created from another job or business can make a world of a difference in your day-to-day lifestyle,” says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance. So whether you’re good at organizing, pet-sitting, catering or cleaning, advertise your services on Facebook or via fliers in local coffee shops, churches or other local establishments. If that doesn’t garner any leads, try a site like TaskRabbit.com, where you can get paid to help local people do anything from handyman work to shopping to event assistance.
Refinance your mortgage
“Now is the time to look into refinancing,” says McBride. The reason: “Not only are mortgage rates hovering at around just 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan, this year, more people will be able to refinance due to recent enhancements to HARP (aka the “Home Affordable Refinance Program”), which helps underwater borrowers refinance their mortgages),” he says. Whereas once if you were 25% or more underwater on your mortgage, you couldn’t refinance under this program, now the rules are more relaxed. “Refinancing can save you thousands of dollars over the years,” he says.
“The general rule of thumb is that if you can cut your rate by ¾ of a point, it’s worth looking into,” McBride says. Of course, you also have to consider the costs of refinancing, which include things like application, appraisal and inspection fees. “Though there are a number of no-fee refinance offers out there these days,” says McBride. Check out current rates to see if refinancing makes sense for you.
Switch credit cards
“If getting out of debt is one of your New Year’s resolutions, you can probably do this much more cost-effectively by switching credit cards in the new year,” McBride says. “Consumers with good credit can now get single-digit interest rate cards and 0% balance transfer offers,” he says. “And even those who don’t carry a balance should check out the latest crop of rewards cards,” he adds , “as you can earn 2% or more cash back with some.” So, for example, “If you spend a lot on gas, you should check out a gas rewards card,” says Schrage. Use Mint.com’s credit card tool to find the best card for you.
“4 Resolutions You Forgot to Make” was written by Cheap Chic.