Life is busy, and time is short. A lot of people don’t feel they have time to give their finances the total makeover they need. But a better question is – can you afford not to make the time to do it?
Only 39% of Americans have $1,000 available for an emergency expense. That needs to change.
If that describes you, or you’re even close, there are four easy ways to supercharge your finances. Best of all, you can do each in 15 minutes or less. And over time, the improvement in your finances will be dramatic. You’ll get out of that paycheck-to-paycheck trap, and begin building a real financial future for yourself and family.
That’s important. Forbes contributor, Kate Ashford cites a study from CareerBuilder reporting “Nearly eight out of 10 workers (78%) live paycheck to paycheck…” To begin building a real financial future for yourself and family, that’s a pattern
you need to escape, and fast.
Regularly Check Your Credit Report and Your Credit Score
Want to know a frightening statistic? One-in-five credit reports have an error. It could be that your name is associated with an account that’s not yours. Or it can be an unpaid medical bill or collection, or even a late payment. Any one of those errors can hurt your credit score.
What’s worse, you probably won’t find out about it until you apply for credit. If so, you’ll risk paying a higher interest rate on a loan, or even the possibility being declined.
With an investment of just 15 minutes, you can fix that before it becomes a problem. Sign up for a website called AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s the only website officially authorized to provide you with annual copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus.
You can also sign up for free service, like Credit Karma. They’ll provide you with monthly updates of your credit score from two of the three credit bureaus.
You can monitor your credit score, and also to find errors. Remove them as soon as possible, and certainly before applying for credit. If you find errors, contact the credit bureaus to get them removed.
I had a situation a while back with a gym membership from another state that was hurting my credit. It had been on my credit report for years, and I didn’t even know about. Only when I pulled my credit did I find the problem and get it corrected. That’s when my credit score finally improved.
You need to be doing that regularly. It’s not just creditors who review our credit either. Landlords, employers, and some insurance and utility companies do to. With an investment of just 15 minutes per month, you can make sure they’re looking at a clean report.
Start an Emergency Fund
Remember that statistic that only 39% of Americans can come up with $1,000 for an emergency? It means 61% can’t. This is a group you absolutely don’t want to belong to.
Emergencies happen. The furnace or the air conditioner in your house go out. Your car needs a major repair. You have a medical procedure and there’s a large deductible. These things happen to everybody, so you have to be ready.
What’s more, having an emergency fund can keep a large expense from turning into a full-blown personal financial crisis.
For example, if your car needs an $800 repair, but you have over $1,000 in your emergency fund, you’ll have it covered. But if you have no emergency fund, it’s probably panic time.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, it’s easier to build one that you might think. There was a savings strategy floating around on Pinterest a while back, called something like the “52 week money challenge”. It enables people to build an emergency fund by starting small.
The first week, you save just $1. The second week, you save $2, and by the third week, you’re up to $3, and so on. By the 52nd week, you put away $52. At the end of one year, you’ll have more than $1,600 saved.
That’s a strategy anyone can implement. It’ll be even more effective if you can add extra money from other sources along the way. For example, banking your income tax refund instead of spending it. U.S. Tax Deadline: IRS Refunds Over $180B, Provides Online Tools To Find Your Refund reports the average income tax refund is nearly $3,000. The combination of the two strategies will enable you to save several thousand dollars in your emergency fund in no time at all.
Start a Roth IRA
I’m a big fan of the Roth IRA. No – I love the Roth IRA. What’s great about the Roth IRA is that it enables you to begin investing money and to save for retirement at the same time. That’s killing two major financial birds with one stone! And it’ll take you no more than 15 minutes to open a Roth IRA.
There are two major reasons that make Roth IRAs incredibly attractive:
- It provides you with tax-free income in retirement, and
- You can access your contributions early if you need to.
Let’s start with the second point first. Unlike a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible. Since they’re not, they can be withdrawn early, without incurring ordinary income tax or the 10% early withdrawal penalty.
Investment income you earn on your contributions cannot be withdrawn early. But the IRS does allow you to first withdraw your contributions (see Roth IRA Ordering Rules on Page 33), enabling you to avoid creating a tax liability.
To the first point, your investment income accumulates on a tax-deferred basis. And once again, your contributions are not tax-deductible. But once you reach age 59 1/2, and as long as you’ve been in the plan for at least five years, any distributions you take are free from federal income tax.
There’s nothing better than tax-free income, especially once you retire.
Where to Open and Invest Your Roth IRA
A Roth IRA is a self-directed account. That means you can open the account anywhere you like.
Fortunately, there are a lot of places to open a Roth IRA.
For example, if you’re comfortable choosing your own investments, you can open an account with an investment brokerage firm. Good platforms for this purpose are E*TRADE, TD Ameritrade, Ally invest, and Fidelity.
If you don’t want to handle your own investments, you can open an account with a “robo-advisor”. These are online, automated investment platforms that handle all the investment details for you.
For example, they choose your investment allocation, based on your goals and risk tolerance.
After that, they rebalance your portfolio as necessary, and even reinvest dividends and interest. All you need to do is fund your account on a regular basis, and the robo-advisor takes care of the rest for you.
Maybe the best example of robo-advisors are Betterment and Wealthfront. You can open an account online in just a few minutes. And Betterment doesn’t even require you to fund your account immediately. You can do that by making regular contributions from your bank account or your payroll checks.
Still another option is an app called Acorns. You connect it to your bank account, and as you spend money, it rounds up your purchases, and put the “spare change” into an investment account.
For example, of you use your debit card to make a $4.25 purchase, Acorns will charge your account $5, pay for the purchase, and move 75 cents to an investment account.
“The beauty of Acorns is that you can start with a small amount like $5 and begin investing,” says Forbes Personal Finance Contributor, David Domzalski. “If you want to see what your investment would look like if you put more money aside, you can click on the “Change My Future” button and adjust the amount you want to put away daily, weekly, or monthly.”
It’s the easiest way to save money possible – you save money through your regular spending!
Roth IRAs make both investing and saving for retirement easier than it’s ever been. This is one account you absolutely owe it to yourself to open today.
Simplify Your Financial Life
If you ever feel as if your life is cluttered, there’s a simple reason why – it probably is. Electronic everything means were being bombarded from all directions all the time. To clear your head and your schedule, you have to get control that. And the way to do that is to simplify things.
And yes, you can actually do that in just a few minutes.
Start with your email. You know those annoying ads and newsletters you’re getting? Not only are they cluttering your email, but they’re also tempting you to spend money you probably shouldn’t. Unsubscribed each as they come in. This will allow you to streamline your email to where you’re only getting messages you actually want.
Close out old financial accounts. Do you have credit cards or department store charges you no longer use? Close them out. This will eliminate potential annual fees, as well as the mental clutter that comes from having too many accounts.
The argument against this is always that closing out accounts will hurt your credit score. That’s true, but the impact is minimal and temporary.
It’s much better close out those accounts, so you won’t be tempted to use them to spend more money and run up your balances. Keep only the credit cards you use a regular basis.
Sign up for Personal Capital.
This is a free app you can use to keep all your financial accounts in one place. That includes personal bank accounts, investment accounts, IRAs, and 401(k) plans.
Personal Capital will allow you to regularly track your net worth, and build synergy between your various investment accounts. For example, it can let you know exactly how much you have invested in stocks, bonds, and foreign markets across all your investment accounts.
Final Thoughts on Easy Ways to Supercharge Your Finances in 15 Minutes or Less
15 minutes once a week or once a month on each of the four areas above will go a long way toward supercharging your finances. You’re just making simple adjustments in how you manage your affairs, but those changes will reap big financial rewards. Give each a try and watch what happens!