A Financial Checklist for Your First 100 Days of ‘09

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The first 100 days are considered critical for the new president, since it’s during these three months Barack Obama's expected to implement new policies and address the issues from the previous administration.

In our own lives, a new year also offers a new beginning, a chance to set a fresh personal finance agenda and to end the bad behaviors of yesteryear – like putting our lattes on Amex (AXP).

Here are some financial to-dos for your checklist in the first 100 days of 2009.

1. Set Goals. Create attainable goals big and small which will help motivate you to save, spend smarter and boost your credit standing. With housing and auto prices down drastically it might be time to look into relocating or buying a new set of wheels. To track your financial health start a free membership on our sister site, Geezeo.


2. Get a Free Credit Report. Knowing your credit history will help you achieve financial goals. You can download a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. (Quick tip: Download a free copy from one and stagger the other two throughout the year to track your progress.)

3. Erase Holiday Debt. Nip gift charges in the bud before the interest rate on your credit card starts to do its damage. Think you don’t need a reminder? According to Consumer Reports, Americans are still carrying $12 billion in credit-card debit from 2007’s holiday shopping.

4. Save More. Boost your savings for retirement and a rainy day. If you can afford it and your employer still offers a 401(k) match, embrace it by contributing at least that much. As for your bank savings account, automatically save 10% of your paycheck in an emergency account, up to the point where you have at least enough to cover six months of living expenses. To make sure you’re getting the best possible rate, search for competitive deals at BankingMyWay.com, one of MainStreet's sister sites. If another bank is offering a higher rate, ask your bank if it will match it. You might be surprised.

5. Improve Your Debt Rates. If you have great credit, have paid down at least 15 to 20% of your mortgage and plan to live in your home for at least another year or two, you may want to consider refinancing your mortgage to snag a lower rate. With mortgage rates at historically low levels, you may be able to pocket an extra hundred dollars a month or more. The closing costs will bite, so make sure the math adds up in your favor. Separately, call up your credit card company to request a lower annual percentage rate. If you have a clean payment record and your rate is more than 14 or 15%, explain you’re thinking of moving your business and see if you can get it bumped lower.

6. Get Started on Your Taxes. Gather your tax statements from your mail in January. Collect all your receipts from donations and charitable contributions from 2008. If you itemize your deductions, make sure to locate all related receipts. Finally, if your individual adjusted gross income is less than $54,000 don’t forget that you may be able to qualify for the IRS’s Free File program.

7. Use Your Health Insurance. If you’re fortunate enough to have an employer-sponsored health plan, take advantage of its benefits. Start the year off by making appointments for a physical, teeth cleaning and eye exams.

8. Update Your Profile. Put your best self out there on your professional resume (which may come in handy in a shaky job market) and your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. Include new experiences from 2008.  If you have unflattering photos online or suspect comments on your blog, erase them. With unemployment at 6.7% and rising, this is not the year to get passed up for a job because a hiring rep saw a photo of you dancing on a bar on New Year’s Eve.

9. Grow Your Network. Networking is free. Re-new your affiliations with professional networks and even old friends. Facebook, LinkedIn and your cell phone directory are great places to start.  Ask for referrals; take people out for coffee, drinks, a soft pretzel.  Put the good karma out there. See it get returned in due time.

10. Plan a Vacation. About a third of Americans don’t use their vacation days. Call it being obsessed with work, not having the money or losing track of time. Whatever the excuse, time off is important to your mental health which is what is at least partly guiding your financial well-being, right? Do yourself a favor, mentally and financially and plan a vacation in the first 100 days.  It may motivate you to work harder and save more money in anticipation of the upcoming six days and seven nights in the Bahamas. And hey, if it’s a staycation you’re in the mood for, that’s all good, too. Having the time to relax and recharge is what’s most important.

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8.

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