16 Months Of Financial Tips

Jan 03, 2023 Personal Finances

Use these monthly financial tips to break down your top financial tasks and to-dos and get on the right path to being financially healthy.

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January 2023

The start of a new year is a time for new beginnings and goals. However, it can be difficult to set a yearly resolution and not break it the whole year. About 80% of people stop trying to reach their resolution after six weeks.

Instead of committing yourself to 52 weeks, consider setting a new goal or resolution at the start of each week and call them Monday Resolutions.

For example, if you always buy coffee on your way to work but want to save money, make a promise to yourself to only drink coffee from home or the office instead. At the end of the week, calculate how much you saved on average and give yourself a pat on the back!

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Reach Your Goals

BALANCE

Take advantage of free financial education from our partner, BALANCE. From confidential coaching to videos and articles, get the resources you need to help with your fiscal matters.

Upcoming Months

It’s tax season and the IRS is warning consumers to beware of tax-time scams.

Be on the lookout for “ghost preparers” who falsify information, promise higher returns by faking income, and adding deductions you normally wouldn’t qualify for, then refuse to sign for their work or include the required tax identification number on a return. Additionally, these tax preparers might require a cash payment without a receipt, or fill in their bank information instead of the taxpayers’ bank information for direct deposit refunds. If you’re having someone else prepare your taxes this year, be sure to double-check all the information before filing.

You’re also encouraged to be on high alert for scammers posing as financial institutions or “IRS Online employees” who send phony documents via email. When the consumer opens the email or attachment, malware can spread. The IRS won’t send unsolicited emails, but if you do receive one and accidentally open it, forward the fraudulent email to [email protected] and take steps to check for malware or other dangerous viruses.

Also, watch out for tax refund scams. Scammers have the capability to file fraudulent returns and have the deposits go to the wrong person. Then they threaten the account owner and demand the money be returned. If you think you’re a victim of this particular scam, it’s important to act quickly.

Here are some additional tips:

  • If you receive an unexpected refund via direct deposit, immediately call your financial institution to have the funds returned to the IRS and flag your account for fraud. You also need to call the IRS to let them know why you’re refunding the return.
  • If you receive a paper check refund that isn’t yours, write VOID on the back of the check, add a note that says “Return of erroneous refund check because [brief explanation],” and submit the check to the appropriate IRS location.
  • The IRS will never call you directly, so don’t give personal information to anyone claiming they’re an agent.

If you think you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft, click here for more IRS recommendations on steps to take.

Even if retirement seems like a far off dream, it’s better to start saving sooner rather than later. Review your retirement fund and contributions to ensure you’re on track to reach your goals. If your employer offers a 401(k), take advantage and sign up. You can also use an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), either Roth or Traditional, to save or supplement your retirement income.

Contributions made to a Roth IRA are taxed before they’re put into your account, meaning you won’t have to pay taxes on contributions or earnings for qualified distributions.

With a traditional IRA, taxes are paid as you make withdrawals in retirement. By deferring your taxes, you might pay more when you take it out, but there’s potential to earn more in dividends, interest payments, and capital gains because funds will be compounded per year without being reduced by taxes.

With either option, your gains will not be taxed as long as the money is in the IRA. You can contribute up to $6,000 per year and individuals 50 and older are allowed to save an extra $1,000 a year.

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Is improving your credit score on your to-do list? It’s time to take a closer look at your credit score and see where you should focus.

In order to start making improvements, it’s beneficial to understand how your score is influenced. Your credit score is generally made up of five factors – payment history (35%), amount owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), credit mix (10%), and new credit (10%).

Making on-time payments and maintaining a low balance are important since these are most heavily weighted. Set reminders on your phone or enroll in autopay to ensure you never miss a payment for an account. Pay your balances in full whenever possible and pay more than the required amount each month to save you from paying more in interest.

If you don’t have credit history, it’s important to establish credit and let it mature. Older accounts are rich in credit history and give lenders a better sense of your borrowing behaviors. Consider different types of borrowing to demonstrate responsibility, but be careful not to open too many accounts at once – this can appear to be a sign of financial distress to creditors. It’s best to only open accounts you’ll actively use.

As summer approaches, now’s a great time to check in on your financial progress. Though the gains may not be obvious, here are some simple questions to ask yourself to measure success.

Has your savings account increased? It’s important to build an emergency fund for life’s inevitable unexpected expenses. Review your account to double-check that you’re making regular contributions at a consistent dollar amount and not withdrawing more than what you put in. If you haven’t done so already, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account every month so you won’t forget.

Do you have less debt? Even if you haven’t fully paid off your debt, it’s important to have a plan in place to reduce it every month. Get started with the 5 Steps To Get Out Of Debt.

Have you made gains towards your goals? It’s a good idea to check progress towards your goals every few months. If you’ve become lax in your monthly savings allotment, revisit your plan. You can either recommit yourself to your original strategy or alter it to fit your current financial needs.

Remember to treat yourself when you hit a milestone along your path of financial progress. Going to a movie or having a meal out can be a nice and inexpensive way to acknowledge your hard work, and motivate you to keep going!

Summertime is here and the kids are no longer in school, what will you do? If you want to stick to a budget this summer, try some inexpensive summer activities in your area.

For example, visiting your local library is a great way to get the family out of the house while staying cool during hot summer days. Check out your library’s calendar of events to register for special activities, like game nights or story time for your little ones.

Another option is to plan a staycation and take advantage of activities your hometown or nearby cities have to offer. The money you’d normally spend on a hotel and transportation costs is avoided and can be saved. You can also pack a lunch and extra snacks if you have the space so you won’t have to pay for food while out.

Hot Texas summers are here and the heat can be uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as your wallet might feel. Reduce your home’s energy usage and save with these tips.

  • Unplug any electronics that aren’t in use, such as computers, chargers, and televisions
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Turn your thermostat up 7-10 degrees when you leave the house
  • Close your blinds to prevent the sunshine from increasing the temperature in your home
  • If you’re due for an upgrade, consider buying energy-efficient appliances

Making a habit out of conserving energy helps reduce the strain on community resources, all while helping maximize savings.

A financial checkup is just as important as a physical. Learn how to evaluate fiscal matters to gauge your financial wellness. Schedule your free consultation with a financial coach from BALANCE to identify ways to go from financially coping or vulnerable to financially well.

It’s not a fun thing to do, but creating a will and making important decisions in advance will make it easier and less stressful for your loved ones when the time comes.

Still on the fence about writing one? Here are five reasons why it’s essential to have a will.

  • It helps determine who gets what when you pass away, making it easier for your loved ones.
  • If you have children under the age of 18, it’s how you indicate who will be their legal guardian and express your wishes; otherwise, important decisions will be left to lawyers, judges, and other family members.
  • An updated will ensures those handling your estate know about any donations you’re wanting to make.
  • If you’re a business owner, you’re able to designate who you want the company to go to.
  • It can help minimize federal and state taxes by adding instructions regarding gifts you want to give to individuals or about placing money in trust accounts.

The holidays are coming, so create a holiday spending plan to prevent causing more debt than memories. Start thinking about who and what you’ll be shopping for, account for travel costs, and don’t be afraid to get creative with gifts.

Make finding the best deals easy by setting up notifications from retailors when there’s a price drop and keeping an eye out during sales — like Black Friday. Have fun, even on a budget, by planning and saving ahead of time to avoid the holiday blues when it’s all over.

As life changes, so should your insurance. But even if you don’t have any major life changes, it’s always a good idea to review insurances coverages – like life, auto, or home on a regular basis.

So whether you’re just checking in with your agent or thinking about switching insurance companies, keep these questions in mind so you can get the best protection available and maintain the coverage you need.

  • What’s my deductible?
  • What does my policy cover?
  • When is it time to change or update coverage?
  • What kind of discounts am I eligible for?

Also, consider redirecting monthly savings to an emergency fund to have money readily available should an out-of-pocket expense come up.

Want to avoid a spending frenzy? Try out new budget-friendly traditions. Opt for a potluck, arrange a gift exchange, or swap an expensive holiday tradition to a family game night or volunteer day.

It’s also okay to DIY gifts and focus on experiences. Writing someone a thoughtful card and taking them to dinner can mean just as much as buying a fancy gift.

Also don’t forget to use your head, not just your heart, when out shopping. Stores are competing for your wallet so it’s easy to get distracted by the flashing lights and décor, not to mention the alluring smells like pumpkin spice and cookies.

A few small adjustments can help bring big relief to your budget.

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Financial health is a key part of overall wellness. Count on us to provide the knowledge and tools you need to make sense of your money, better your financial journey, and improve your peace of mind.

Past Months

The holidays are often a busy time of year, so it may be best to rework your budget and make modifications to your finances before the New Year. If you plan to incur debt this holiday season, factor repayment in to the upcoming year’s spending and savings plan.

Here’s a list of helpful tips and ideas to get started:

  • Use apps like Financial Tools in A+ Online Banking or the A+ Mobile App to create a budget and keep track of saving and spending across various accounts.
  • If you’re someone who regularly makes purchases using a credit card and struggles to pay it off, consider using a debit card instead. Seeing your checking account balance diminish may be more alarming than seeing your credit card balance on the rise.
  • Set a realistic savings goal you would like to meet, the time frame, and then make your contribution automatic.
  • In online banking, register to receive a text or email when your balance is low or a large transaction is made.
  • Automate your bills and payments so you don’t have to worry about when they’re due. Use Bill Pay or set up auto drafts through each company’s website.

Avoid overspending and feeling stressed by creating your Thanksgiving game plan early on.

First, create a guest list, then a simple menu to make your grocery shopping and budgeting easier. This will help you determine how much food is really needed.

Once you get to the grocery store, take advantage of store promotions and coupons. For example, most places will you give you free items when you buy a turkey. Use those to your advantage and incorporate them into your menu.

Also, consider using homemade decorations instead of store-bought. To help stay on budget, use items you already own, including dinnerware.

Finally, don’t forget the leftovers. Create a meal plan for what you’re going to do after, like soup, turkey pot pie, sandwiches, or even tacos.

Current and future college students can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the next academic year beginning October 1. Students must submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal, state, and institutional financial aid. It’s important for students to submit early as some financial aid may be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

It’s important to remember that students won’t receive any type of federal aid unless the FAFSA is completed – including grant money! Even if they don’t think they’ll qualify for anything, they should still complete the FAFSA.

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Share these resources with students for information and tips of how to save for college.

Looking to save money on groceries, but don’t know where to start? It can all seem overwhelming, but here are easy ways you can improve your grocery shopping habits, eat out less, and build a better budget.

Start by using coupons you receive in your mailbox and look through ads. Make a list and create a meal plan based on these deals. This will make your busy days easier and save you trips to the store for impromptu items. Add things like in-season produce to your list to save even more.

Next, consider trying generic brands for some of your favorite things when you’re in-store shopping; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Lastly, make sure you utilize the meal plan you created! Use this for dinners and pack a lunch a few days a week – you’ll see the savings rack up each month. Track your budget and see how being a smart and frugal shopper can really help you in the long run.

Online banking is a safe way to take care of your finances, but there are always ways to strengthen your security and make sure you protect your cash the best you can.

Here are some ways to help ensure your online banking account won’t be accessed by scammers any time soon:

  • Double-check that your security software is updated and functioning like it should to provide the best protection from hackers.
  • It’s a good idea to make sure all of your passwords are different. Use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers. You can also use phrases you think you’ll remember.
  • Avoid using unsecure public networks when using online banking. You’ll be an easy target for fraudsters, allowing them to access whatever you’re transmitting or viewing on your account.
  • Always question emails or texts asking for personal information, such as your birthday, Social Security number (SSN), or Personal Identification Number (PIN), and be careful clicking links, even if they look like they’re coming from a legitimate source.
  • Take advantage of all the security benefits your credit union, bank, or credit card has to offer, such as A+ Card Guard.
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