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Financial Education for Everyone

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December 7, 2007

Maybe it's a sign of approaching middle age, but as the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, I instinctively seek out security for my family wherever I can; not just physical safety, but financial protection as well.

In that spirit - and with the new year approaching - here are a few resolutions to consider for safeguarding your family's financial future.

Create a livable budget. The keys to achieving financial security are to live within your means and budget for expected and unexpected expenses. Like a strict diet, however, if your budget is too difficult to follow, it'll probably be history in a month. Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management site run by Visa, features a guide to creating a budget you can live with, along with interactive budgeting tools (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting).

Another good resource is Money magazine's "Money 101," a comprehensive guide to gaining control over your financial life (www.money.cnn.com/pf/101).

Safeguard your credit. Your credit rating determines everything from qualifying for a mortgage to car loan and credit card interest rates to whether you'll be able to rent an apartment or get a particular job. To know where you stand, order one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax (www.equifax.com), Experian (www.experian.com), and TransUnion (www.transunion.com). Order them through www.annualcreditreport.com; otherwise you'll pay a small fee.

Be sure to check your credit reports for errors or fraudulent activity and report any to the bureaus immediately. For tips on ways to improve your credit score and to get a free estimate of your score, visit What's My Score (www.WhatsMyScore.com).

Prepare for family catastrophes. If something terrible happened to you, would your family be protected financially? Make sure you have a valid will, durable power of attorney, health care proxy (health care durable power of attorney) and a living will, along with adequate disability and life insurance. Numerous books, online articles and do-it-yourself forms are available on these topics, but definitely review your plans with a financial advisor or attorney to avoid potential legal problems.

Save for emergencies. Experts recommend putting aside at least three to six months of living expenses in an easily accessible account in case you lose your job, incur unexpected medical expenses or experience other unplanned events. Consider a high-yield money market savings account or a short-term CD to earn greater interest. Go to www.bankrate.com to find accounts with competitive rates.

Save for retirement. It's debatable how reliable Social Security will be down the road. And, for the nearly half of Americans who've saved less than $25,000 for retirement, the future could be bleak indeed. If you're not already participating in your employer's 401(k) plan or an IRA, make that one of your top financial resolutions. Learn more at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/benefits.

Protect your personal information. About $50 billion a year is lost to identity theft. To safeguard your identity:

  • Shred documents containing personal information.
  • Take all purchase receipts and carbons.
  • Don't give personal information by phone, mail or Internet unless you initiated the contact and know with whom you're dealing.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited emails.
  • Frequently update computer firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software.
  • Go to www.callforaction.org or www.ftc.gov/idtheft for additional tips.

Ring in the new year with sounder financial security measures in place - you'll rest easier and so will your family.

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This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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