This is the time of year when people make resolutions for things they want to do in 2017. Typically it involves a new gym membership, but let’s be real: we’re not going to the gym 4 days a week. Instead, here at Yahoo Finance we want to urge you to focus on something more important — your money!
Here are 5 financial New Year’s resolutions for people under 30.
Take a long hard look at your debt
If you’re in your late 20s, you might want to make a big purchase, like a house or a car. You might even be starting a family. If so, make a list of your debts and identify the interest rate for each loan. Select the loan in most need of your attention, and make a plan to pay it off. “I see a lot of people in debt for years because they never set a deadline,” says Deacon Hayes, a personal finance expert from the site Well Kept Wallet. “You want to work with certainties, and setting a deadline gives you direction.”
Approach debt with the same focus you do when picking an Instagram filter, and you’ll be debt-free before you know it.
Stash away a three-month safety net
Life is unpredictable. And when things don’t go as planned – you get laid off, your car needs major repairs, the roof springs a leak – you need a safety net. Work toward saving enough to cover your expenses for three months, which would include mortgage payments or rent, utility bills, food and commuting costs, etc.
“Instead of using a credit card if your car breaks down, you’ll have cash available,” Hayes says. “Not only do you have the financial buffer, but you have the emotional capacity to deal with the unexpected cost.”
We suggest automatically deducting the money from your paycheck every month and putting it straight into a savings account. If you find it hard to put away this much, consider picking up a side job that can help you bring in extra money. Sell stuff you don’t want anymore on eBay, for example. Save this extra cash, and enjoy the comfort of knowing you have money stored away for a rainy day.
Check your credit report
According to one estimate, 35% of Americans have never checked their credit report. Start 2017 off by getting a free credit report from Annual Credit Report.com, and look for errors, fraudulent charges or delinquencies. If there are any red flags or things you don’t recognize, use 2017 to clear them up and get your credit in good shape before you try to make a big purchase. To clear up errors on your report, contact the credit bureau showing the wrong information. Here’s more information on how to dispute credit report errors from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Save for retirement now
You’re young – retirement is a lifetime away, you don’t need to worry about that now! Right? Wrong. Start now so you don’t have to work forever. Twentysomethings have the most valuable asset when it comes to retirement saving: time. The earlier you start, the more you can take advantage of compounding.
If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, make sure you’re enrolled. In addition, if your company offers a match, make sure you’re contributing to get it. For example, say you earn $50,000 a year and you contribute 6% of your salary to your 401(k). And say your company matches 50% of your contributions, up to 3% of your salary. That means each year you would contribute $3,000 to your 401(k) and your company would contribute $1,500 – which is free money – making your total yearly contribution $4,500.
Plan for your child’s future
If you have a child, start putting away money for their college. A 529 savings plan is a great education saving investment vehicle: your investment grows federal tax-free and won’t be taxed when the money is taken out to pay for college. In most cases, 529 plans are not subject to federal or state tax as long as the money withdrawn is used for college expenses like tuition or room and board.
“Deposit $20, $30 or $100 every month. The amount isn’t important, the goal here is to be consistent,” says Hayes.
You can open up a 529 online with a site like Fidelity or Vanguard. Or you can go to your state’s savings plan website and enroll there. It might seem like a headache now, but it’s a lot better than scrambling to find the money when they start applying to colleges.
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.