If you're determined to improve your financial situation this year, take just one hour out of your day to organize your finances and create a solid plan. An hour is usually all it really takes to consolidate some accounts, get in touch with creditors, and get a handle on your debt load. Taking a good look at your finances can help you create a better budget and also get some bad spending habits under control. Taking care of a few simple money-related tasks can put you on the right track financially and also help you avoid some common financial woes.
Here are six smart financial moves you can make that will take an hour or less:
1. Review your budget. How well is your current budget working for you? Are you always going over budget, or do you just ignore the budget altogether and take things month by month? Create a new budget or tweak an existing one so you have a good idea of what your monthly expenses are, and what your savings potential is. Set a savings goal so you are always putting away some of your monthly income. After that, determine how much of your income really is "disposable income." This process shouldn't take more than an hour, and is one of the best things you can do when you want to get a better handle on your finances.
2. Visit a financial planner. Get a financial checkup with the help of a good financial planner so you have a fair idea of your net worth, how your investments are performing, and what your savings balances look like. A financial planner can also be a great resource for budgeting tips and can help you put together a savings forecast based on your income and current expenses. This meeting shouldn't take more than an hour and you'll leave with plenty of solid advice and tips for tightening up your finances.
3. Take a good look at your credit history. Make sure your credit report is free of errors or omissions and make the calls to make corrections as needed. Order a free copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com to verify that all the accounts listed are reported accurately. This report won't reveal your credit score -you'll have to pay a fee for that-but you can get a good idea of what creditors or anyone who pulls your credit actually sees.
4. Create a credit card pay-off plan. Set some specific goals for paying off credit card debt this year and create a credit card payoff plan that will work for you. Review your spending plan and budget to see which expenses could be reduced or eliminated to free up funds for credit card payments. If you have a significant amount of savings stashed away in a low-interest bearing account, consider using a small percentage of that to pay off some high-interest credit cards. Reducing your credit card debt load could boost your credit score and also lower your monthly payment obligations. Just make sure you're not using your credit cards during this process, and you'll be on the fast track to clearing up that debt.
5. Digitize essential financial documents. Make digital copies of important files or scan receipts and other documents to store in a digital format on an external hard drive. Organizing all of that financial paperwork and clutter can make it easier to put together your budget, credit card pay-off plan, and make financial projections for the year. Having everything digitized will also make those files more accessible when you need them for taxes or other financial projects. Make sure to shred those documents after you've made a copy of all necessary items.
6. Change all financial passwords. Banks are getting better with online security measures by adding extra steps to the online login process and requesting that customers change their passwords frequently throughout the year. However, not all banks and credit card companies have an identity-theft and cyber-crime prevention plan in place. Make a list of all the accounts that you log into online and work through the steps to change your password. Set a different security question and make sure you choose passwords that contain both upper and lowercase letters and numbers. This process won't take you more than an hour and could protect you from identity theft.
Sabah Karimi is a featured Yahoo contributor and a writer for top personal finance blog Wise Bread.