Getting your finances in order is always a good thing; however, most don’t do it soon enough. Typically it takes a life event such as a wedding, birth of a child, divorce, audit or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, by this time your finances may already be in a mess. Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared for these events? The good news is there are several free tools and resources online to assist you in getting your family’s finances in order.
MyMoney.gov offers lots of educational tools. MyMoney focuses on five principles: Earn, Save & Invest, Protect, Spend and Borrow. You can take Money Quizzes to see how well you're doing in each area and learn best practices.
Step 1: Get organized!
There are several budgeting and financial trackers online. Most of these tools will help you easily track all your accounts including:
- Credit cards
One of my personal favorites is Mint.com. It is a great tool to get a view of your big financial picture. The site connects to more than 7,500 U.S. financial institutions and is adding more regularly. You will link all of your accounts to the site by providing user names and passwords for all accounts. I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t this a security risk?” Have no fear! The site touts these security features:
- Maintains a secure connection.
- All user names and passwords are encrypted so that no one at Mint ever sees them.
- Only imports data; no money or investments can be moved through Mint.com.
The great thing is that all of your accounts will then stay up to date and expenses will be categorized. This site is a great tool for creating a budget to help you stay on track for your financial goals.
Although Mint.com is secure some still aren’t convinced. And that’s okay. Try BudgetTracker.com or BudgetPulse.com. These sites let you enter account balances and transactions. You can get a free account on BudgetPulse.com or BudgetTracker which includes up to 10 accounts. Both offer intuitive interfaces that are easier to navigate than your typical budgeting spreadsheet.
Step 2: Set Goals
Already organized? Good for you! You have done the hard part. Now it’s time to make sure you are putting your hard earned dollars to work. Here are some common goals and free resources to help you achieve them:
1. Pay Down Debt - So you have some debt? Most Americans do. However, it is important to know what type of debt you have. Did you know there is good debt and bad debt?
Good debt helps you to generate income and/or increases your net worth.
- Student loans
Bad debt includes all debts incurred to purchase depreciating assets.
- Credit cards
|MyMoney.gov||Comprehensive Financial Education|
|Mint.com||Automated Budget Tracking.|
|BudgetTracker.com||Manual Budget Tracking|
|BudgetPulse.com||Manual Budget Tracking|
|Debt.org||Advice on managing debt|
|AnnualCreditReport.com||Monitoring your credit score|
|ubt.com/calculators||Planning for large purchases|
|ubt.com/education||Ensuring you're saving enough for retirement|
|DailyFinance.com||Daily Money Management Tips|
|Money.CNN.com||News about finance|
|DailyWorth.com||Advice on money and life|
I know that vacation to Bora Bora was fun, but it’s not fun to pay for it over the next five years. Debt.org is a great website to help you understand the different types of debt. The website also offers plans to help you with debt consolidation and understanding all of your options.
Most important when it comes to debt is to monitor your credit history. It is a good idea to look at your credit report at least on an annual basis. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your free report. Debt.org has information on what your Credit Score means.
2. Plan a Large Purchase - Looking to buy a home or car and want to know what you can expect your payment to be? Or maybe you’ve already made the purchase but want to pay it off before the maturity date? Our Financial Calculators are a great resource to calculate what those payments will be.
3. Save for Retirement - Want to know if you’re saving enough to retire someday? Our Retirement Education Center will help guide you through every stage of life. Once again, all free tools.
Other websites such as dailyfinance.com, money.cnn.com and dailyworth.com offer free advice to help achieve your financial goals. Fortunately, getting your finances in order is not a difficult task but it does take commitment. Managing your finances is an ongoing process, so it’s important to figure out what works best for you and your family.