In a recent survey prepared for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), roughly seven percent of the adult population, or about 16 million people, reported that they did not know how much they spend on food, housing, and entertainment. Twenty-six percent, or 58 million people, admitted to not paying all of their bills on time.
Furthermore, about 13 million adults, or 6 percent of the population reported that their households carry credit card debt of $10,000 or more from month to month.
While the need to be financially literate and knowledgeable about financial matters is important, it is particularly imperative to be so during a recession. Financial mistakes – even small ones – can cost staggering amounts of money over relatively short periods of time. Fortunately, there are basic steps which people can take to save money and be more financially stable, and today I would like to share five ideas with you on ways to make better financial choices:
1) Pay bills on time – Although this may seem like commonsense, many people forget to pay their bills by the due date and are subject to costly late fees. These can be in the range of $40 and can damage your credit score.
Set up automatic bill-paying if you procrastinate, travel frequently, or are particularly forgetful. Additionally, be sure to open any and all bills when they arrive. Ignoring bill problems won't make them go away, but developing a strategy to pay for them will.
2) Avoid overdrafts and bounced checks – Sometimes financial institutions will allow you to exceed your balance, but you will pay a hefty price for the courtesy. Avoid over-limit fees and bounced checks by recording every transaction, including any ATM withdrawals.
3) Don't max out credit cards – Creditors like to see people properly manage their credit, so try to use 30 percent or less of your available credit. Maxing out your credit cards could indicate that you are having financial trouble and lead to higher rates and lower credit lines.
4) Review your insurance coverage annually – The last thing anyone needs is to have an emergency and find out that they weren't insured when they thought they were. At the same time, being over-insured is costly and ineffective. Communicate with your provider and know exactly what is covered on your insurance plan and what you are paying for it.
5) Track spending and know where your money goes - People often forget about the importance of keeping records and having a general, yet detailed, knowledge of their expenses. A budget does not have to be restraining, and it can help you spend your money in the best way you deem fit.
I hope you will keep these tips in mind and remember that non-profit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org), the Jump$tart Coalition (www.jumpstartcoalition.org), and HOPE NOW (www.hopenow.com) can help educate you on financial matters. I encourage you to visit their websites for further information, and to keep in mind that many of these organizations have local affiliates that you can seek out. Today we are seeing the dire consequences of the lack of financial literacy in the United States. Being educated about financial issues is one of the best ways to lead a financially stable life, and I hope you will get the information you need to make financially smart decisions.