Put your financial life on autopilot -- and find peace of mind - FOX Carolina 21

Put your financial life on autopilot -- and find peace of mind

© iStockphoto.com / Rob Friedman © iStockphoto.com / Rob Friedman

By Andrew Housser

For many Americans, every month presents a struggle with how to manage their household financial obligations. Perhaps they have savings goals that are difficult to reach, or they are trying to figure out how to get out of debt. Maybe they are plagued by late fees on credit cards or other bills. If you are among them, there is good news. You can put many aspects of financial management on autopilot. By taking advantage of the ideas below, you can make it easier to save, repay debt and achieve your goals.

1. Sign up for direct paycheck deposit. These days, many employers require automatic deposit of paychecks. For those with an option of direct deposit, it is usually a good idea to take it. Some banks dramatically reduce account fees for direct deposit. Direct deposit saves you a trip to the bank. It also ensures your money will make it into your account, even when you are out sick or on vacation.

2. Use a budget. A budget tells whether you can meet your expenses, and how much you have left after you pay the basics. While a spreadsheet or pencil and paper work just fine, online budgeting software such as Quicken or Mint can help keep you on track. Input your goals, and you can receive reminders via email or text. These products also can warn you if your bank account is low or you are exceeding a budget category.

3. Eliminate late payments (and their fees). By now, many people receive at least some bills online. Many people also pay online. If you haven’t done so already, go to your bank or credit union’s bill payment system, and log onto each of your bill accounts. Set up each to pay at least the minimum payment by the due date. Be sure to note how much will be paid when so you do not exceed your bank balance. You will save about $25 for each late fee you do not incur – and avoid damaging your credit profile.

4. Consider overdraft protection if you can use it wisely. If you usually keep close tabs on your checking account, but once in a while go into the red, evaluate your bank’s overdraft protection offerings. Overdraft protection is a line of credit attached to your account. An overdraft line could save you $50 for each bounced check, in bank fees and returned-check charges. However, most overdraft lines also have a steep interest rate for the “loan” you incur to cover an overdraft. If you do have overdraft protection and need to use it, repay the balance ASAP minimize those costs. If you know you will not be able to resist dipping into the overdraft, it is usually better not to have it at all (or to close the line if you already do have it).

5. Save for emergencies. A good rule of thumb is that you should save six to nine months’ worth of living expenses in case of unemployment or other emergencies. That totals around $17,000 for an average household. The way to achieve this goal is through persistence. Try having $50 a week automatically deposited from your paycheck into a savings account. Add any unexpected windfall (a rebate, bonus, raise, tax refund or even proceeds from a yard sale) to the savings. With these steps, in a few years, you could save $10,000 or more.

6. Sock away retirement money. Most U.S. workers have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan (often a 401(k)). If your employer matches your contribution, you are passing up a major benefit if you do not contribute. A common match is 50 cents for every dollar you contribute, up to a certain limit. If you contribute $3,000 a year (which amounts to $115 every two weeks), your employer would add another $1,500 per year to your account. In addition, you’ll reap tax advantages for your contribution. Invest the funds wisely, add it up over 30 years, and you may be surprised what it will amount to by retirement.

7. Pay off your mortgage five years faster. This tip is especially important for people who are approaching retirement but who still have a mortgage. Add one additional payment per year, and you could cut five years off your repayment period. To do this, divide your monthly mortgage payment by 12. Then add that number in additional principal payment to your monthly payment. Set up this payment to be paid automatically from your checking account, even if it is tough at first. It will be worth it when you have no mortgage payment during some of your fixed-income years.

Each of these tips can make a difference in your financial well-being. When you combine them, you can really get ahead. Best of all, because they are all automatic, you will hardly feel a thing – except the peace of mind of knowing your bills (and your savings) are paid on time, every month.


Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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