February 1, 2023

Brad Marolf

Business & Finance Wonders

68% Of Americans Say Their Financial Situation Did Not Improve In 2022

This year has stressed the finances of many Americans. According to a recent Credit Karma study, 68% of American adults said their finances either didn’t improve or stayed the same in 2022.

The most common financial mistake cited by the study’s respondents was not saving money (40%), while 35% of respondents said they fell into some “bad habits” in 2022. These included not sticking to a budget, overpaying for rent, losing money in stock market or cryptocurrency investments, and not contributing to their retirement savings.

Fortunately, a new year is upon us and with it, a new chance to bounce back from some of 2022’s personal finance shortcomings. Here are some basic tips to help make your 2023 a more prosperous one.

How to make 2023 a better financial year

Improve your credit score

If your credit score is in a less than ideal place, now may be the time to devise a plan to help you improve it — especially if you’re planning to purchase a house, a car, take on a personal loan or even open up a new credit card this year.

With a higher credit score, you can qualify for better interest rates on your credit card, mortgage, or loan, better loan terms and sometimes even higher funding amounts.

One of the most important ways to increase your credit score is to continue making on-time payments on any existing debt. Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO® score, so it’s the most influential factor here.

You’ll also want to make sure you keep your credit utilization low. Your credit utilization rate is the amount of credit you’ve already spent (your balance) divided by your total available credit (your credit limit). So if you’ve spent $5,000 on a credit card with a credit limit of $10,000, your credit utilization rate is 50%. It’s typically recommended to keep your total utilization below 30%, but the lower you can get it, the better.

Keep in mind that it can take some time to see drastic improvements in your credit score, however, every little score bump helps. If you need a slightly quicker increase, Experian Boost allows users to connect your utility, telecom and some streaming accounts to their Experian credit report, which can potentially increase their credit score. The idea is that you can receive a higher credit score for making on-time payments for things that aren’t traditionally reported on your credit report, like your phone bill, internet bill, or streaming subscription.

Experian Boost®

On Experian’s secure site

  • Cost

  • Average credit score increase

    13 points, though results vary

  • Credit report affected

  • Credit scoring model used

Results will vary. See website for details.

Make a plan for spending mindfully

In his book, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” author Ramit Sethi discusses a concept known as conscious spending. It’s a mindset that encourages spending as much money as you want on what you love, so long as you eliminate expenses from things you could do without.

For example, if you love eating at restaurants with friends but don’t care about the latest Netflix show, you might consider canceling your subscription to make room in your budget for dining out. Conscious spending can help you feel more fulfilled with your purchasing decisions and cut down (or even eliminate) cases of “buyer’s remorse.”

To begin embracing a conscious spending mindset, you’ll first need to figure out where your money currently goes. Budgeting apps such as Mint or YNAB (You Need A Budget) can connect with your bank accounts and automatically track your transactions in the platform.

Reduce your debt

While debt can sometimes be a tool to help you reach certain goals quicker, it’s always important to pay down your balance, especially on a credit card. When you carry a balance month-to-month, you’re being charged interest, which increases the amount you have to pay toward your bill. And in an environment where interest rates are rising, we’ve seen higher rates on consumer debt products like personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, making it more expensive to carry debt.

One tactic for paying down credit card debt quicker is to use a balance transfer credit card since they typically offer a 0% APR intro period. This would allow you to take debt from a credit card with a high interest rate and move it to another card that wouldn’t charge you interest for a limited time. This should hopefully allow you to pay down a considerable amount of debt, or even pay off the balance entirely.

The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on new purchases and qualifying balance transfers (after, 19.24%, 24.24%, or 29.24% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers). You’ll also earn cash-back rewards when spending with the card.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

On Wells Fargo’s secure site

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers; balance transfers made within 120 days qualify for the intro rate

  • Regular APR

    19.24%, 24.24%, or 29.24% variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% for 120 days from account opening, then up to 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

For a card with a longer 0% intro period, consider the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card, which gives cardholders up to 21 months to make use of that 0% APR intro offer on balance transfers (after, 17.24% – 27.99% variable).

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

  • Rewards

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for 21 months on balance transfers; 0% for 12 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee

Using balance transfer cards is useful for paying down credit card debt, but if you want to pay down multiple different kinds of debt faster, a debt consolidation personal loan can really come in handy. You’d apply for enough money to cover your debt balances and once you’re approved, the lender will send the funds to your creditors and you’ll just be responsible for paying back the personal loan.

Happy Money is one of the best lenders for debt consolidation loans since this lender will directly pay creditors for you. All you’d have to do is supply them with the creditor’s information and the amount you’d like to send to each.

Happy Money

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation/refinancing

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

    0% to 5% (based on credit score and application)

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    5% of monthly payment amount or $15, whichever is greater (with 15-day grace period)

Increase your income

Oftentimes, there’s only so much you can do to cut back your spending. Eventually, you’ll hit a wall in your budget, and the only thing you can do to create more wiggle room is to earn more money.

One way to do this is to ask for a raise at your job (when appropriate). Even if you can’t secure a raise right now, you can still open up the conversation with your manager and ask them to revisit your request later on in the year.

You can also try to increase your income by switching to a higher-paying job. Applying to new jobs and going through the application process can place a lot of stress on you and drain your energy, but it may be worth the hassle if you end up happier with a higher income.

If both a raise or a new job look like they’re out of reach, an alternative option is to pick up a part-time job or take on freelance work on the side. Of course, this means dedicating even more of your time to working, but it can pay off in the long-run. Just make sure you avoid overworking and burning yourself out.

Another way to put a little extra money in your pocket is by using a cash-back or rewards credit card. For example, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card provides unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases and doesn’t have an annual fee. It may not be as exciting as a new job title and corner office, but the right card can still help your finances.

Speak to a financial planner

If you’ve never met with a financial planner before, there’s no time like the present. Financial planners offer a wide array of services and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to already be wealthy to use one. They can help you make well-thought-out decisions around major life events, your financial goals and your day-to-day needs.

For example, if you plan to take on a major home renovation next year, a financial planner can work with you to come up with a strategy to pay for the renovations. You can use a service such as Zoe Financial to get matched to financial planners who specialize in the areas where you need the most help.

Bottom line

While many Americans may look back on 2022 as a year of missed opportunity for their finances, the main thing to keep in mind is that mistakes can happen — we just have to make sure our mistakes don’t become bad financial habits.

Now is a good time to consider a few steps you can take to make 2023 a better financial year. Spending mindfully and seeking ways to increase your income can improve your financial situation. And, as always, speaking to a financial expert for personalized advice can be an extremely valuable experience.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.