New Year's (financial) resolutions
Four tips to increase your prosperity throughout the new year.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- New Years Resolutions come and go. So instead of forking over some major dollars for that gym membership, we're going to give you some financial resolutions that will keep you feeling good all year long.
1. Beware Balance Transfer Fees
Transferring a high credit card balance to a card with lower rates can be a great move IF balance-transfer fees are capped at $75 or so. But more and more credit cards are getting rid of caps on balance transfer fees or increasing the fees, says Curtis Arnold of Cardratings.com.
In fact fees can soar to as much as $400 or more. "This trend will continue as issuers try to increase their bottom line. They're more dependent on fee income," says Arnold.
For example, if you're transferring $10,000 to a card with a lower interest rate, and that fee is 3%, that transfer will cost you $300. So, before you authorize a balance transfer, make sure you know exactly what fees you're paying. You can go to cardratings.com to compare credit card fees.
2. Be the Early Bird
Apply online now for college financial aid. While the deadline may be a month or two away, the sooner you apply, the more money you're likely to get. If you haven't gotten your Form W-2, remember you can just estimate your tax info and correct it later. The FAFSA form can be downloaded from www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Don't forget, you'll need to set up a PIN number. It should take you about two hours, according to Sallie Mae. This year, students will be able to take advantage of two relatively new grants: the academic competitive grant and the SMART grant for students majoring in science, technology or math.
This year the government is allocating about $850 million for these according to Mark Kantrowitz of Finaid.org. For more information, go to studentaid.ed.gov.
3. Start with a clean record
Get your credit report at annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. If you find any problems, make sure you complain to the credit bureaus and to credit issuers. You can also have your social security benefits statement mailed to you make sure your income is reported accurately and that no one has been using your number. Check out www.ssa.gov.
4. Kickstart your savings
Beginning this year, you can split the direct deposit of your federal income-tax refund in up to three accounts at up to three different financial institutions. This means, you can use some of your refund to pay off some bills, and you can stash some cash directly into your IRA or your money market account. For details, see Form 8888, "Direct Deposit of Refund to More Than One Account."