If you're like many Americans, the last couple years have been very financially trying and it's always a morale boost to get a few quick wins. Here are five quick financial moves you can do right now to improve your financial situation.
Start an emergency fund
An emergency fund is a pool of funds you set aside for unforeseen emergencies. It can cover something as small as replacing a flat tire on your car to something as big as losing your job. The goal of the fund is to give you access to cash without the penalty of interest. Fortunately, starting an emergency fund is very easy and something you can do in less than 15 minutes.
First, decide how much you need in your emergency fund. Experts recommend anywhere from six months to a year's worth of expenses, but even $500 is better than nothing. Next, open up a high interest savings account so your savings can earn the best possible interest rates. Then, keep contributing each month until you reach your target savings amount.
Credit history check
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives every American the right to see their credit report, for free, every 12 months. You can get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion by visiting the government website AnnualCreditReport.com. It only takes a few minutes to request each report and, barring any complications, about 15 minutes to scan through it.
Review it for accuracy and correct any errors immediately, no matter how inconsequential the errors may seem. The credit report dispute process can take weeks to months to resolve, so submit your dispute as soon as possible. The FTC has this advice on how to dispute credit report errors.
Open a Roth IRA
A Roth IRA is a retirement investment account that takes after-tax contributions and grows tax free. While you can't deduct your contributions, as you would with a Traditional IRA, your distributions in retirement are not subject to income tax. It's a popular retirement vehicle and convenient way to diversify your tax profile if you are contributing to a 401(k).
It's so popular that there are annual contribution limits. A single filer under 50 is limited to $5,000 a year, assuming they earn less than $105,000 a year. The Roth IRA contribution limits can be a little complicated but the appeal of the vehicle is obvious.
Take a few minutes to draw a financial network map that shows the relationships between all of your financial accounts. Show your checking accounts are linked to your savings accounts and credit cards. Draw how you pay your utilities or transfer money to your brokerage accounts. Try to get a nice, neat picture of your entire financial universe on one page.
Does that page look overly complicated? If so, simplify it. Consolidate duplicate accounts, like multiple checking accounts or unnecessary credit cards, and optimize that network. By simplifying your finances, you stand a better chance of understanding and navigating it.
Shop around fixed expenses
How many bills do you get each month? How many do you pay without thinking about it? I pay the cable bill, cell phone bills, utility bills, and scores of others. Take each of those bills and find out if you can get the same service for less.
If you are no longer on a contract with your cable or cell phone provider, shop around to see if another company is willing to cut you a deal. If you haven't shopped around for insurance lately, look around. Companies are hurting as much as individuals. Use that to your advantage by securing a better deal.
Next time you're sitting around with nothing to do before your ride shows up, consider requesting your Equifax credit report and reading through it. You might find an error that could save you thousands of dollars on a mortgage down the road.
Jim Wang writes about personal finance and other money issues at his personal finance blog Bargaineering.com.