Focusing on your finances in the new year? Get started with this easy 10 step financial wellness action plan:
1. Start With Your Budget
Your budget is a financial road map, and whether you’ve kept one for years or just recently started, it’s a good idea to cap off the year with a review. You’ll be able to get a sense of your long-term spending habits and progress in your savings goals. If you haven’t started a budget yet, start one today and take a big step towards ringing in a financially healthy new year.
Review your 2023 budget and celebrate your successes, but don’t be discouraged if you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped in certain areas. Instead, look at it constructively — what did you learn, and how can you improve next year? What new tools or strategies could you benefit from using?
Next, adjust your spending plan and set your savings goals for 2024. Do you need to increase your emergency savings? Planning on buying a new car soon, or simply know this is the year for new tires? Are you hoping to take a vacation this summer? Experts recommend making SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. By considering these five components, you’re not just setting a goal, you’re setting a plan for how to get there. Determine how much you need to save and by when, and work your savings goals into your budget as “payments” to yourself.
You can set up set up recurring transfers in Online Banking to automatically move money into your savings and even set up savings goals to track your progress. You’ll earn a Level Up¹ point for Saving once you have $10,000 or more in balances across all of your eligible share accounts.
2. Change Up Your Savings Game
Keep the change to boost your savings this year with Change it Up!³ Enroll to round up your everyday debit card transactions to make an automatic deposit into your Savings account. It’s an easy, automatic way to save money. To up your savings game even more, direct your change to a Save to Win 12-month Share Certificate for a chance to win monthly and quarterly prizes. Every $25.00 in deposits gives you an entry (up to 100 per month; minimum opening deposit is $25.00).
3. Dive Into Your Credit Score
Credit report errors are more common than you might think and can drag down your credit score. A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that after addressing errors, one in five people boosted their credit score enough to enter a better credit risk tier, which means they qualified for a lower loan interest rate. Common errors include duplicate accounts, closed accounts reporting as open, accounts belonging to someone with a similar name as yours, accounts reported incorrectly as late or delinquent, and instances of identity theft. Reviewing your credit report every year is great way to keep on top of any errors and help protect your credit score. Never pay someone to clean up your credit report — you can access your report and fix errors for free. You can order your free credit report every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com, a service authorized by federal law thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If your credit report has errors, notify the credit bureau (Experian, Equifax, and/or TransUnion) in writing. They have 30 days to research and remove incorrect information.
You can also monitor your credit score in Online Banking with daily updates of your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0, powered by SavvyMoney, Inc.² Simply select See Your Score on your Accounts Dashboard and accept the Terms & Conditions to authorize a soft credit pull that will not affect your score. After you opt-in, you can get insights into your how your score is calculated, view a summary of your credit report, and use the score simulator to see how different actions might impact your score. You can also set a credit score goal, which will give you recommendations for how to achieve your target. Please note that the information used here is for educational purposes only and that a different credit scoring model may be used when applying for credit.
4. Check Your Level
Speaking of Level Up, our member benefits program,² you earn points based on your activity with us to be in Levels 1, 2, or 3. Increasing benefits include select fee waivers, waived check orders, and rate discounts on new eligible consumer loans — all of which can help you save even more money and get ahead financially. You can check your level by logging into Online Banking, looking at your most recent statement, or by calling us at (805) 543-1816. Need more points to hit the next level and reap the added benefits? Check out these 5 ideas.
5. Do a Little Account Admin
Take a moment to review all your accounts and verify that your information is accurate. If you moved, changed your phone number, or adopted a new primary email this past year, it’s important to make sure your information is current on all of your accounts to ensure you don’t miss important notifications, tax forms, and to keep your info out of someone else’s hands. Updating your SESLOC information is easy in Online Banking.
If you have any joint owners or authorized users on your accounts, make sure their information still accurate as well. Or, if they are no longer relevant to the account now is the time to remove them. And be sure to review your designated beneficiaries on any applicable accounts, like your IRA, insurance, or 401(k). People often list a beneficiary when they set up their accounts and then forget about them, so an ex-spouse or some other inappropriate person is still their beneficiary. Even if there are no changes, it’s a good idea to review your beneficiary information annually to ensure everything is accurate.
6. Check Your Rewards Points
Your SESLOC HomeFREE Checking™ debit card and Visa Signature Rewards credit card earn rewards points with every purchase — have you checked how much you’ve earned recently? You can redeem your points for cash back, gift cards, gas, merchandise, and more. Or, enroll in Pay With Points¹ to redeem your points for a statement credit covering qualifying purchases.
7. Top Off Your Retirement Accounts
If you didn’t max out your IRA contributions for 2023, you actually have until April 15, 2024 to do so. The contribution for 2023 is $6,500, or $7,500 if you’re over 50 and making catch-up contributions. These limits will bump up to $7,000 (or $8,000 for catch-up) for the 2024 tax year.
As you move into the new year, you might also want to consider increasing your 401k contribution, especially if you aren’t maximizing your company’s matching program. No matter what your retirement savings goals are, at a minimum, you should plan to fully utilize your employer’s match. While many programs have a vesting period, in which the percentage of their contribution becomes “yours” over a period of time, the match is essentially free money for your retirement fund. Employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow you to stash away more for your golden years, with the 2023 limit being $22,500. If you’re age 50 or older, you’re eligible for an additional $7,500 in catch-up contributions (not including your employer’s match). For the 2024 tax year, this limit will increase to $23,000, or $30,500 for those over 50 making catch-up contributions.
8. Check Your FSA Balance
A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a great benefit offered by many employers that allows you to save money by setting aside pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible medical expenses. However, FSA’s expire annually and are use it or lose it. Make sure you know the details of your company’s plan and what’s covered. Some plans expire on December 31, others give a grace period, and others allow a limited rollover to the next year.
If your FSA expired in December, make it a resolution to fully take advantage of it this year. Get your appointments penciled in now, and make a plan for what to do with the remainder at the end of the year.
If your plan has a grace period, it might be too late to get scheduled for a last-minute eye or dental exam, but you can use your funds to order contacts, get a new set of glasses, refill prescriptions, pick up an emergency first aid kit, or stock up on sunscreen.
9. Get Organized For Tax Season
Although you might still have your holiday decorations up, there are a few things you can plan to do now (or soon) that will help make tax season a little more stress-free:
- Locate and review last year’s tax return. Use it as a guide to make a list of all the organizations that you’ll be expecting required documentation from, like your W-2, any 1099’s for dividends, and so on.
- Make a list of all the receipts you’ll need for your deductions, then collect and organize them.
- Pencil in an appointment with your tax advisor or CPA. Their schedules might book up quickly, and there are benefits to getting your taxes done as soon as possible. Besides avoiding any late fees and getting a quicker return, filing early can help prevent identity theft and tax fraud. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of this time of year to file fraudulent returns to claim other people’s tax refunds.
10. Embrace Contactless
Embrace remote banking tools so you can manage your money on your time. You may be aware that mobile check deposits are secure and convenient, but did you know they’re also quick? Same day posting is available for mobile deposits received and accepted by 4:00 p.m. on a regular business day.³ Mobile deposits made after 4:00 p.m. or on weekends or holidays are available the next regular business day (Monday through Friday). Plus, mobile deposits generate an instant record in your Online Banking Account.
And have you tried contactless payments yet? Your SESLOC debit and credit cards are compatible with Apple, Google, and Samsung Pay — simply add your card to your digital wallet and you’re ready to make secure payments at the store and online wherever digital wallets are accepted.