It’s not too late to cut, save

If you’re like many Americans, financial goals such as “manage debt” or “save money” might zip from your pen and onto your list of New Year’s resolutions this month. But implementing those four little words can be much more daunting.

Two metro Atlanta financial advisers share these tips on how to start the year on the right financial foot:

To pay off debt

1. Make a budget. This is especially important if you’re looking to pay off loans, as you’ll need to identify and eliminate superfluous expenses. But even if you’re relatively debt-free, look for ways to save for what is important to you — for example, a retirement plan or charitable contributions, said Atlanta SunTrust private financial adviser Kris Funkhouser.

2. Request a lower interest rate. “A lot of clients may not know, for example, if you call the credit card company and ask them to lower the rate, some of them will actually do it,” Funkhouser said, noting a successful request depends on your payment history as well as the company’s policy. “There are a lot of times when people have just gone along and paid and paid, and didn’t know that they could call and ask for a rate reduction.”

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3. Tier your debts. If you’re paying off loans on which the interest is not tax-deductible (credit card payments, for example), focus on the loan with the highest interest rate first, Funkhouser said. Once you’ve paid off the highest-interest-rate loan, move that monthly payment to the loan with the next lowest rate plus the minimum payment you were already making. “So by the time you get to your last loan, you’re paying one dollar amount that represents what you used to pay on maybe five loans,” Funkhouser said. “That’s typically the quickest way to get it paid off.”

For the debt-free

1. Increase your 401(k) contributions. “Sometimes saving for retirement can feel like climbing a mountain,” said Ted Jenkin, co-CEO of Oxygen Financial, an Alpharetta financial planning firm. But a small boost at the beginning of each year can make things feel more manageable. “Increase your 401(k) savings by 1 percent, and you won’t miss it. Out of mind, out of sight.”

2. Shop all of your bills. “It is far too easy to pay your bills online today without even reading them,” Jenkin said. Call each of your bill vendors and ask if they have a better plan you could be on at this time. “Your cable, gas, electric and cellphone vendors don’t want to lose that recurring revenue in the beginning of the year, so strike while the iron is hot.”

3. Start a holiday savings account. Prepare now for the holiday crunch next December by setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a separate account to be used for gifts at the end of the year. “By putting away just $10 to $20 a week, you can avoid the dreaded credit card debt syndrome going into the following holiday season,” Jenkin said.

Discuss personal finance, bargains and saving money on Lauren Davidson’s blog: www.ajc.com/go/bargains/.

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