Improve your financial literacy this year. Photo: Stock
Most people start the New Year seeking to improve their finances, however, no matter how well-intentioned, far fewer make any changes let alone achieve their financial goals.
To make it a bit simpler, financial services provider, DirectAxis, asked some of its in-house experts for some easy steps you can take to improve the state of your finances in 2018.
Here are their five suggestions:
Check your credit report
Whether you’re buying or renting a house or apartment, financing a new car or even just opening a retail account, the chances are there will be a credit check. Your credit score tells people and companies how much of a financial risk you are and determines whether they’ll do business with you and even what interest rates you’ll pay.
You are entitled to one free credit report a year from any of the credit bureaus such as TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan or XDS. The report will tell you what your credit score is, the information used to calculate it and any enquires that have been made.
It’s worth checking the report carefully as it will show if anyone has been fraudulently using your identity to open accounts or get credit, which will negatively affect your credit profile. You may also discover errors, which if corrected, could improve your profile.
Keep tabs on your credit profile
If reviewing your credit report is the equivalent of going to the doctor for an annual check-up, then regularly checking your credit profile is like getting exercise and eating right to stay healthy.
Most of the credit bureaus offer regular credit report updates, but you generally need to pay for these.
The good news is that there are a number of free online tools that allow you to check your credit profile as often as you like. Some, such as Pulse, provide a credit rating, information on how this is calculated, your monthly commitments, how your rating changes on a monthly basis as well as the transactions that affect it, including any credit events or enquiries. Importantly it also tells you the three main factors contributing to the rating and what you can do to improve these.
Regularly checking your credit profile gives you the information you need and the incentive to improve it. It will also give you early warning of any fraudulent activity that may be harming your credit score.
Reduce what you owe
Your credit profile will give you a clear understanding of what you owe and what your financial commitments are each month. Not only can you improve your credit score by paying off debt, but also save yourself money. Try to pay off the debts with the highest interest rates first, while maintaining the minimum payments on your other accounts.
Set a budget
This may sound daunting, but it needn’t be. You can start small when you go shopping. Make a list of what you need and estimate what it will cost. Then stick to that budget. That way you’ll be less tempted to buy things you don’t need and will save money.
Once you’ve mastered the shopping budget you can try to draw up a household budget. You can do this by listing all your income such as salary and any other money you may earn from rentals or freelance work on the left of a page or spreadsheet. On the right list all your expenses. These should include things such as bond payments or rent, car repayments, loan payments and rates, right down to living expenses such as food and clothing, transport and cell phone costs. Be as honest and detailed as possible.
This should give you a good idea of where you’re spending money and what you can do to cut out unnecessary expenditure. You can then use any money you’ve saved to pay off expensive debt, save or invest.
Improve your financial knowledge
Invest some of the time you’d otherwise have spent on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook to improve your financial literacy. There’s plenty of information online if you’re prepared to look for it. You can search for topics, tips or even videos here.
There are also plenty of other websites, news outlets, expert blogs and columns available. In fact, the volume of information can be daunting, so decide on a few subjects you’d like to know more about and start there. Compare what you find to make sure you’re getting sound, accurate information. Over time you’ll identify the websites that offer the most helpful information that best suits your needs.
“The problem with resolutions is they can be hard to achieve,” said Marlies Kappers, DirectAxis head of marketing.
“None of these five are, so pick the one which you think might be most helpful and start there. It could really make a difference to your financial well-being in the coming year.”
Talk to us by emailing our group editor, Daniella Potter, at [email protected]