spring cleaning financesIt’s that time of year again: the sun is shining, birds are chirping, and flowers are blooming.  Spring is a time for renewal, and for many people, a time for a deep cleaning. This year, don’t limit your spring cleaning to your closets – take care of your finances!

Set Up Credit Monitoring

In today’s economy, many financial transactions take place electronically, whether it be online or through credit cards.  This can leave you vulnerable to fraud and identity theft, which can lead to a bad credit score. Having a bad credit score can cost you thousands of dollars in interest payments, block you from renting a certain home, or even prevent you from landing a dream job.  Because your credit score is critical to your overall financially health, it is incredibly important to keep an eye on your credit report.  One easy way to do this is through credit monitoring.

A credit report is a summary of your financial history, including account information, unpaid or late bills and any accounts that you have closed.  This report is the basis for your credit score, a three-digit number between 300 and 850 that determines how credit worthy you are.  The higher the number, the better; a high credit score will usually result in lower interest rates. Every American is entitled to a free yearly credit report, which you can and should check each year.  Credit monitoring services go beyond an annual check; they continuously monitor your accounts to help you protect your credit.

Credit monitoring services act are the equivalent of a financial watchdog.  They will alert you to any suspicious activity or significant changes on any of your accounts that could impact your credit score.  This includes new accounts being opening, a credit card balance increase, or reports of late payments.  It can also help catch identity theft, an increasingly common crime. With just your name and social security number, identity thieves can open up credit cards, take out a car loan or even rent an apartment.  Credit monitoring services cannot prevent this type of fraud, but they can alert you to suspicious activity. This will allow you to take appropriate action to protect your good credit.

There are numerous options available for credit monitoring services.  Your bank or credit card company may offer credit-monitoring services, or they may have a preferred partner for credit monitoring services. Be sure to look at the services offered by each company; some may include identity theft or fraud monitoring as part of a monthly or yearly fee. Whichever option you choose, be sure to report any errors on your report.

Protecting your credit score is key to a healthy financial future.  Credit monitoring services are a great way to protect your credit and lessen the damage of any fraud or identity theft.

Refinance Your Student Loans

If you have student loans, you would probably love to lower your monthly payments.  One way to do this is through refinancing your student loans — a step that could possibly save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Refinancing a loan is different than consolidating a loan.  In refinancing, your old loan is paid off, and you have a new loan with new terms.  This may mean a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment.  Your new rate is based on your credit score, so before you apply for refinancing, check your credit to make sure that you are in good standing.

The first step in refinancing a student loan is to pick a lender.  Your current lender may offer a refinancing option; if so, check their terms to see if they would be favorable for your situation. If not, there are a variety of companies that offer options to refinance both federal and private loans.  Once you have chosen a lender, you must submit an application.  This will require information such as proof of income and verification of the loan; the lender will also ask for permission to run a credit check.  In order to be approved, you must have a good credit score and a demonstrated history of paying bills on time. If you are approved, carefully review the terms of the loan to make that it is the best deal for you.

There are risks that should be considered before deciding to refinance a student loan.  While you can refinance both federal and private loans, there is no option to refinance federal loans into new federal loans.  Instead, when you refinance a federal loan, you are converting it from a federal loan into a private loan.  This may mean giving up certain protections, such as income-based repayment, loan forgiveness and deferment options.  Refinancing may also extend the length of your loan, which could result in higher interest payments over the life of the loan.

You can use a refinancing calculator, available on numerous websites, to determine how much interest you will pay over the course of the loan.  A variable interest rate could also result in higher total payments if the interest rate rises. Finally, refinancing may eliminate your ability to deduct student loan interest on your taxes.

Before refinancing your student loans, weigh the risks and benefits to figure out if refinancing is the right choice for your personal situation. Check out your options today to see if you can save thousands on your student loans!

Start an IRA

Good financial planning should always include saving for retirement.  While you may already participate in a 401(k) plan through your employer, supplementing your savings through an individual retirement account (IRA) will help you meet your retirement goals.

Many different financial institutions offer IRAs; they allow you to save for retirement on a tax-free or tax-deferred basis. There are three main types of IRAs, each of which has its own advantages. A traditional IRA allows contributions to grow, tax-deferred, until they are withdrawn in retirement.  Contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible. Because many retirees are in a lower tax bracket during retirement, earnings from these accounts are typically taxed at a lower rate.

Roth IRAs are funded by after-tax contributions, meaning that you have already paid taxes on the money you put into this account.  These contributions may grow tax-free, and withdrawals in retirement may also be tax-free, if certain conditions are met.  Rollover IRAs are essentially traditional IRAs funded with money “rolled over” from a qualified retirement plans [including 401(k) or 403(b) plans]. Whichever plan you choose, the tax-free or tax-deferred benefits can help your savings grow much more quickly than in other accounts.

An IRA can help make up the difference between your retirement needs and your 401(k) savings.  They typically offer a wider range of investment choices than employer-sponsored plans and offer tax-free or tax-deferred growth.

This spring, don’t just clean your house.  Make sure that your finances are in order by taking these three simple steps today!

About Robert Farrington

Robert Farrington has written 77 articles on this site..

Robert Farrington is the founder and editor of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to young adult and college student finances.

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