Kick off the new year with this 10 step financial wellness action plan. The best part? It’s easy!
1. Download Your Annual Free Credit Report
Credit report errors are more common than you might think, and errors negatively impact 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.
Making a habit out of 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 www.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.
2. Review Your Accounts
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.
Do you have any joint owners or authorized users on your accounts? Is there information still accurate too? Or are they no longer relevant to the account and should be removed?
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.
3. Optimize Your Banking
Saving paper isn’t just good for the environment — services like eStatements and Bill Pay help optimize your banking and protect your identity by reducing the volume of printed documentation with your sensitive information. eStatements are securely encrypted and allow you to view your account or loan statements online anytime. Plus, they’re archived for 24 months, so you don’t have to worry about losing access to your history. To make the switch, log into Online Banking and select Statements. Bill Pay is another secure and convenient service that allows you to send and receive bills directly through Online Banking, saving you the cost of a stamp and a trip to the post office.
4. 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 gift cards, gas, merchandise, and more. Or, enroll in Pay With Points¹ to redeem your points for a statement credit covering qualifying purchases.
5. Top Off Your Retirement Accounts
If you didn’t max out your IRA contributions for 2021, you actually have until April 15, 2022 to do so. The contribution for 2021 is $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over 50 and making catch-up contributions. These limits will remain in place for 2022.
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 2021 limit being $19,500, or $26,000 for those over 50 (not including your employer match). For the 2022 tax year, this limit will increase to $20,500, or $27,000 for those over 50 making catch-up contributions.
6. 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 roll over 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.
7. Review Your 2021 Budget & Goals, & Adjust for 2022
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. Financial Tools in Online Banking is a convenient tool that helps you get a handle on your finances with budgets and visualizations of your cash flow, debts, and net worth. You can even import external accounts, like your employer’s 401(k), to get a complete picture.
Review your 2021 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? If you’re not sure where to start, you might benefit from SESLOC’s Money Coaches, who can help you plan and stay on track.
Next, adjust your spending plan and set your goals for 2022. 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.
We’ve made it even easier to save for and keep track of your savings goals. Open a second (or third, or fourth…) Share Savings through Online Banking in minutes. Then, name it after your goal — such as “home down payment” or “vehicle maintenance fund.” You can also open a Save to Win 12-month Share Certificate online for a chance to win monthly and quarterly prizes. Every $25.00 in deposits gives you another entry (up to 100 per month; minimum opening deposit is $25.00).
Simply log into Online Banking and select Open Account. You can even set up recurring transfers to automatically move money into these accounts on your preferred schedule. 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.
8. 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.
9. Level Up
What’s your level? This past year we introduced Level Up, our new member benefits program.² The more points you’ve earned, the higher of one of three levels given. 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 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.
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 HomeFREE Checking 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.
¹ Participation in the program is subject to terms and conditions, available at seslocrewards.org.
² The Level Up Member Benefits Program (“Program”) is provided by SESLOC Federal Credit Union (“Credit Union”). The Program is available to consumer memberships, for which the primary consumer member is eighteen (18) years in age or older and is a member in good standing with the Credit Union. The Program is automatically available to an eligible consumer membership. Please visit www.sesloc.org, Online Banking or any branch for the Level Up Member Benefits Program Disclosure (“Disclosure”) for more information regarding the terms and conditions of the Program. Certain restrictions and other limitations apply. By establishing or maintaining a consumer membership you are accepting the terms and conditions of the Program. If you prefer not to participate in the Program you may opt-out, see the Disclosure for more details. The Program terms, conditions and benefits may be amended at the sole discretion of the Credit Union and are subject to change without notice, except where required by law.