NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Idea No. 1: Mask Your Identity.
Chances are better than ever that in 2006 you'll be able to place a security freeze on your credit report. That effectively stops prospective lenders from issuing credit to you -- or, more important, to anyone pretending to be you.
The financial services industry hates freeze laws, but a dozen states have already passed them. Others, such as New York, could join the Big Chill within months. To learn how to place a freeze in states where it's available, check out the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Move No. 2: Check your credit. All Americans are now entitled to free annual copies of the credit reports maintained on them by the big three credit bureaus. So there's no longer an excuse for not checking to see whether your report is accurate or contains the odd activity or strange addresses that could signal ID theft.
If you're applying for a major loan, request all three of your reports at the same time. Otherwise, order one from a different bureau every four months to keep tabs on your credit without paying for a monitoring service. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com for an online report, or call 877-322-8228 to order a paper version.
Move No. 3: Change your life insurance. Today you can buy more insurance for less money than you could a decade ago, even though, let's face it, you're 10 years older.
In 1995 a 30-year-old male could purchase a $500,000 20-year level-term (rates stay the same) policy for $520 a year. Today that same 40-year-old can buy another 20 years,
beginning now, for $365 annually. For a 10-year policy, rates begin at $220. Start shopping at Accuquote.com.
Move No. 4: Prepare for disasters. This isn't a 2006 weather forecast, but if 2005 provided the country with one unhappy lesson, it's that you need to be prepared for natural and man-made disasters.
Keep enough cash on hand to cover a few days' worth of food, lodging and gas, or keep a credit card with a zero balance set aside for such an emergency. To get a handle on which financial records you should have in a safe place, use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit at Operation Hope.
Alarmingly, half of Americans don't have an emergency fund for replacing income if a disaster keeps them from working. So stash money in a bank account or money-market fund to cover three to six months of living expenses.
Move No. 5: Save on long-distance. About 80 percent of wireless phone users in a recent study said they were planning to dump their landlines by 2007.
Not ready to cut the cord? You can still save a bundle by not paying your phone company for long-distance service you already have coming to you through your cell phone. Seventy-eight percent of all paid-for cell-phone minutes go unused, according to a survey from TNS Telecoms.
Move No. 6: Consolidate student loans. If, like millions of college students, your child has taken out federal Stafford loans, investigate consolidating the debt by mid-2006 at the current rate of 4.75 percent. Unless Congress intervenes, those loans are slated to be fixed at 6.8 percent on July 1.
If a graduating senior with the four-year maximum of $17,125 in Stafford loans takes no action, she'll have to pay $197 a month for 10 years to erase the debt. But if she consolidates early, says Gary Carpenter of the National Institute of Certified College Planners, she could stretch her payback from 10 years to 15 and pay only $133 a month, incurring minimal additional interest expense. You can find a loanconsolidation application on your lender's Web site.
Move No. 7: Get debt under control. Fight rising credit-card costs with the Debt Reduction Planner.
Move No. 8: Get a plan. Estimate your 2026 nest egg with the Savings Planner.
Move No. 9: Plan for college. Learn what tuition and fees will run you at any four-year college with the College Cost Finder.
Move No. 10: Check our the Five Tips column. Every Monday, Wedneday and Friday, CNN's Gerri Willis offer timely advice on family money issues. See more.
More moves for 2006...