In a survey by Fidelity Investments, 67% of Americans said they’re planning to make financial resolutions for 2020, with saving more and paying down debt topping the resolution chart.
Of course making such resolutions is easier than keeping them. A third of New Year’s resolutions don’t even make it past the first month, two studies found.
Whatever your specific financial resolutions for 2020, you can increase the odds of keeping them if you build a strong foundation for success.
Here are five ways to start and end the next year strong:
1. Get a Support Group
A support group can be a big help for reaching any goal. It’s why some people will shell out $2,000 plus for a Peloton bike, with its streaming exercise classes and Facebook group, when you can get a perfectly good programmable stationary bike for less than half the price.
Sure, you could turn to folks you already know for support. But what if you’re not comfortable discussing your $10,000 in credit card debt or lack of savings with family, friends or coworkers?
Fortunately, there are dozens of resources individuals can utilize to connect with other people who share similar financial goals. One of the easiest ways to do this is by joining Facebook groups centered on personal finance in general or a particular goal, such as paying off debt.
Alicia McElhaney is the founder of She Spends, a newsletter and community specifically for women and non-binary individuals to discuss personal finance. The community has a Facebook group with more than 1,600 members who regularly discuss their own money goals or ask questions to help navigate their financial health. McElhaney says she has seen firsthand how successful such a group can be.
“People have been encouraged to ask for raises, make changes to paying off their student loans, apply for different jobs after talking through their work environments, and people even say they contribute more to charity now from what they see in the group and newsletter because they see that their peers are contributing, and that’s exciting to me,” McElhaney says. “[The group] really is effective for a lot of people.”
A Facebook group can also help you hold yourself accountable, whether that’s by sharing updates with other members or staying motivated by seeing others achieve their goals. She Spends has even organized informal meetups for members, which can strengthen connections between members and build a true community around shared financial goals.
If Facebook groups aren’t your thing, there are other options, including listening to podcasts focused on personal finance. Even if you aren’t having direct dialogue, listening to experts discuss money insights and tips can help keep you focused on your finances—and you may learn a few things along the way.
2. Dig Into the Details
Creating financial goals is great. But if you don’t understand the inner workings of those goals, you can miss opportunities to make progress towards achieving them.
Let’s say one of your goals this year is to increase or even max out contributions to your 401(k). But do you know how your plan actually works? Do you know how your employer’s match works? (Pro tip: If you frontload your contributions, you might not get the whole match.) Have you reviewed your investments and their underlying fees? If your money is going into a target date fund, do you understand what it owns?
Having a solid understanding of how the financial products, services and strategies you use work will help you make smarter decisions about your money. Read up and you might discover that your 401(k) is charging more than the average annual fee (0.67%, according to Morningstar). Switching to a cheaper index fund could result in thousands of extra dollars come retirement.
Not sure where to start? There are plenty of educational resources to help consumers become well versed in their financial lives. Here are a few places to get started:
- Morningstar – A global financial services firm providing information and research on investments and investment management.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – An official government bureau that regulates consumer financial products and services. The CFPB has a “Consumer Tools” section of its website with guides on important financial decisions like buying a house, obtaining an auto loan or paying for college.
- Reporting by personal finance journalists, available for free at (among other sites) Forbes’ Advisor and Money channels, the New York Times YourMoney section and Marketwatch’s Personal Finance section.
3. Automate Your Savings
Contributions to your 401(k) are deducted from your paycheck. But what about your other savings goals? What’s your plan to make them happen?
One of the most successful ways to actually save is by automating your savings. Data shows that individuals who automate their savings, on average, save more than those who don’t. Chime, an online-only bank, found that account holders who enrolled in its automated savings features for their purchases and paychecks saved $382 a month on average, compared to $113 a month for those who didn’t use either feature.
If you’re aiming to follow the traditional advice of saving six months’ worth of expenses for an emergency fund, remember that starting small will set you up for success. According to a study by the Urban Institute, having as little as $250 in savings can help protect individuals from financial emergencies, such as being evicted or missing a utility bill—two major financial hiccups that can have lasting implications on an individual’s overall financial health.
4. Mind Your Credit Record and Score
Whatever your financial goals, it makes sense to review your credit bureau reports and pay close attention to the credit scores derived from those reports. If your financial goals include buying a new car or home, having a strong credit score could save you big bucks. But your credit report could also come into play if you’re looking for a new job, renting an apartment or applying for insurance.
You can exercise your legal right to get a free copy of your report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Look particularly for incorrect information about credit accounts—information that could be a mistake or red flag that someone is misusing your identity.
What about that all-important FICO credit score? You won’t get that directly from your credit report, but there are multiple ways to get that for free too, including through your own credit card company, Discover Bank and FreeCreditScore.com. (You can also monitor a roughly comparable non-FICO credit score by signing up for CreditKarma.com.)
What’s a good credit score? Experian’s 2019 State of Credit Report finds the average credit score of U.S. consumers is 682, the highest score the report has seen since 2011. That average score is good, but bumping it up by a few points could bring down your borrowing costs. Since interest rates on loans are typically determined by the risk of the borrower—which is measured by their credit score—having a higher score can help consumers save hundreds, if not thousands, when borrowing funds.
Building up your credit score takes time and requires discipline. Having a high credit score requires a mix of things, the most important of which, for scoring purposes, are your on-time payment history and the amounts you owe, or your credit utilization. Your credit score also looks at how long your oldest line of credit has been open, how much new credit you’ve been seeking and the different types of credit you use. Overall, building credit is a slow and meticulous process.
If you have a thin credit file and are worried about your eligibility to borrow in the new year, you do have options. Experian Boost is a free service from Experian, one of the three national credit bureaus, that adds positive utility and telecom payment history to a consumer’s FICO Score 8 model. Experian says 86% of thin-file consumers see an instant 19-point increase in their FICO scores after signing up for the service.
Another way to increase your credit score without much work is by adding your rent payments to your payment history. But to do this, you’ll have to enroll in a third-party service, which can cost as low as $6.95 per month or annual fees of $95 plus. This option is best for individuals with little to no established credit history, and a need to borrow in the relatively near future.
5. Take Control of Your Student Loans
If you’ve got them—and more than 45 million Americans do—your student loans likely cast a shadow over all your finances. Repaying your student loans in full might not happen in 2020, but it’s likely a goal in the near future.
One thing about student loans is certain: You cannot count on your student loan servicer to give you correct information. Now is the time to take full control of your repayment process.
An audit released by the Education Department’s Inspector General in February 2019 revealed that 60% of oversight reports from 2015 to 2017 contained examples of servicers making mistakes and acting improperly. These mistakes included misinforming borrowers about their payment options and not properly calculating payments for those on income-based repayment (IBR) plans.
The horror stories are all too real: For example, individuals apply for public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) after 10 long years of payments, only to find they were on the incorrect type of repayment plan all that time, and therefore weren’t eligible.
Servicers are inundated with borrowers and errors are bound to happen. Instead of relying on the servicer, it’s best to take control of your student loans and regularly check to make sure your payments are accurate.
If you need help figuring out what payment plan you’re on or what it requires, the Federal Student Aid website can help. This U.S. government office is the official resource for all aspects of federal student loans, from obtaining them to repaying them or consolidating them.
After gathering information from this website, call your student loan servicer and ask for specific information from your account, such as a record of payments or yearly PSLF certification. Keep a paper record of everything—you never know when you might need it.