If one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2012 is to improve your finances in some way, join the club.
According to a survey from TD Ameritrade, 73% of Americans will make at least one money-related New Year’s resolution. Regardless of your current economic circumstances, here are 12 crucial and doable financial goals worth putting on your list of New Year’s resolutions for 2012 – along with some tips and resources to ensure your financial success.—<em>Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, <a href="http://askthemoneycoach.com/" target=_blank>Askthemoneycoach.com</a></em>
<em>All images: Thinkstock</em>
<b>2. Reduce debt</b>
<em>Consumer Reports</em> has found that in late 2011, 14 million Americans were still paying off their holiday bills from 2010. If you haven't been able to get out of credit card debt on your own, try boosting your financial fitness by joining a free financial boot camp offered online like <a href="http://www.mymoneycircles.com/" target=_blank>MyMoneyCircles.com</a>. This practical, step-by-step program, which I help lead with a team of experts, will help you reduce debt, figure out how to save money and reach a host of financial goals, including all of the financial New Year’s resolutions on this list.
<b>3. Improve your credit</b>
Your credit rating is enormously important, and impacts everything from the rates you’ll pay on loans and insurance to whether or not you can rent an apartment or get hired for certain jobs. If you've been neglecting your credit (or worse, abusing it), it’s time to turn your credit and financial health around. Start by checking your credit reports at no cost at <a href="https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp" target=_blank>AnnualCreditReport.com</a>. By law, you're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit bureau: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
<b>4. Increase your savings</b>
Don’t feel like you can save more money—or are you simply fed up with getting next to nothing on the savings you are stashing away? Maybe the best way to begin saving more money is just by getting a different savings account; online savings accounts boast rates that are sometimes five times the national average.
Use <a href="http://www.money-rates.com/" target=_blank>MoneyRates.com</a> to find which banks are offering the highest interest rates on savings accounts, CDs and money market accounts.
<b>5. Create a will</b>
This is one of those tasks that most people procrastinate about and never seem to find the time to do. To overcome this obstacle, just tell yourself that if you finally create a will in 2012, it will be a major “to do” item that you can scratch off your list. Creating a will doesn’t have to be expensive either. You can create an affordable online will for just $69 at <a href="http://www.legalzoom.com/" target=_blank>LegalZoom.com</a> or <a href="http://www.nolo.com/" target=_blank>Nolo.com</a>.
<b>6. Insure your life or property</b>
A string of major natural disasters in 2011 reminded us all about the power of Mother Nature—and of the need for insurance to protect against such calamities. There was a deadly tornado in Joplin, Mo.; Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on the Northeast; and a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. Likewise, the untimely death of Apple founder Steve Jobs served as a sobering reminder that none of us will live forever. So if you’ve put off getting life insurance or making sure you have proper insurance protection for your home or car, go to Insure.com to comparison shop for the best insurance rates available.
<b>7. Schedule an appointment with a financial advisor</b>
It’s always a good idea to get a qualified professional to take an independent look at your overall financial picture. To find an affordable, fee-only financial advisor, get a referral from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. The beginning of the New Year is a great time to set up a consultation with an accountant or financial advisor who can tell you everything from what areas of your finances could stand improving to overlooked ways you can save on your taxes.
<b>8. File your taxes early</b>
Speaking of taxes, make a pledge to yourself to get your income taxes filed early this year. That way you avoid the last-minute stress of the April tax-filing deadline. Early filing means you will also get any tax refund due you much sooner. The Internal Revenue Service recommends e-filing as the speediest, most efficient way to process your tax return. You can learn more about filing a tax return electronically, including whether or not your income qualifies you for free filing, at <a href="http://www.irs.gov/" target=_blank>IRS.gov</a>.
<b>9. Organize your financial paperwork</b>
Before you file your taxes or meet your accountant/financial advisor, take some time to organize your financial records. Use whatever system works for you: including keeping paperwork in a file cabinet or an accordion folder. For electronic storage of your records, check out NeatReceipts an easy-to-use, lightweight product that helps you quickly scan and organize all kinds of paperwork, including pay stubs, receipts and business cards. The NeatReceipts scanner also lets you export financial records from your computer to Excel and tax preparation programs like Quicken.
Living within your means is about budgeting your purchases, and having the courage to be honest about what you can and can't afford.
<b>11. Plan for retirement</b>
Have you put off joining your workplace retirement program? Maybe it’s time to take advantage of matching retirement contributions your employer may offer through a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. Doing so now could pay dividends for years to come. Learn about the value of a 401(k) at the Employee Benefit Research Institute.