7 Simple Steps to Improve Your Finances Before the New Year

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Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

One week. Seven days. It’s not such a long time.

But if you commit to the seven-day plan we’re laying out here, you can fix your finances in just a week. Then you can flex your arms and say, YES, I AM MR./MRS. FIXIT.

At the very least, you can take steps to improve your financial situation in some tangible ways.

C’mon, seven days. Give it 15 minutes a day. Get out your calendar, and let’s give it a go.

Day 1: Take Steps to Raise Your Credit Score

How about a better, more strategic look at your financesparticularly your debts? Credit Sesame can help you figure it out.

Credit Sesame gives you a “credit report card” that shows you a free credit score, plus lays out your credit history so you can see exactly how much money you owe and to whom.

It even tells you your monthly payments and interest rate, as well as which debts are in collections.

The app lets you keep track of your credit score and recommends ways to improve it. Also, signing up for it won’t hurt your credit score.

For example, it might recommend a rewards credit card. 

If you’re not using one for everyday purchases, you’re missing out on free money. 

Here’s an example: Chase Freedom Unlimited card Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus. Another big perk? No annual fee.

Day 2: Lower Your Interest Rates

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is Fiona, a search engine for financial services, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Fiona searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

Day 3: Watch Videos to Grow Your Savings 

And on the third day of organizing your finances, you get to relax. Who said any of this had to be hard?

Your savings could always use a little extra padding, so why not cushion it by doing something you do anyway?

That’s right. Swagbucks pays you to watch videos! You won’t earn a lot (up to $90 per month), but the videos are in all sorts of categories — entertainment, home, travel — so you’re likely to find something that appeals to you.

Need another option?

Most of you already know about InboxDollars, but did you know that it will pay you to watch movie previews, celebrity videos, the latest news and dozens of other videos? Plus, you’ll get a bonus $5 just for signing up.

The availability is subject to change, but it’s possible to earn up to $225 a month watching these videos!

Day 4: Start Stashing Some Cash Away

It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to grow your money.

Sometimes, though, it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.

But we found some apps that let you into the game — even if you’re not a bajillionaire.

With Acorns, you can start small and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.

Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you — and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.

Stash lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.

Stash curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money. It leaves the complicated investment terms out of it. You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

Bonus: You’ll get a $5 bonus when you enter the code PENNYH.

If you’re having trouble finding extra money in your budget, we’ve got an easy way to get back some money you’ve already spent.

One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.

Disclosure: Paribus compensates us when you sign up using the links we provide.

Day 5: See if You Can’t Cut Back on Your Monthly Bills

It’s important to make sure you’re getting a good deal on any product or service you use, and this is a lot easier than you might think.

Hop on Squeeze, a website that allows you to compare rates for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, renters insurance, and mobile and internet plans (among others) for free.

Say you want to compare internet prices. Based on your location, the site aggregates all your options and shows you companies alongside price points and download speeds.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Day 6: Find out Whether You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance

You’re probably overpaying for car insurance. And how would you know, really?

Have you shopped around lately? Have you compared rates from the 20 largest auto insurers that do business in your area? That sounds kind of difficult and time-consuming, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, a service called Gabi will do it for you, and you don’t even have to fill out any forms. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work.

Once you link your insurance account to Gabi, it will:

  • Scan your existing insurance plan.
  • Analyze what coverage you have.
  • Compare the major insurers’ rates for that same coverage.
  • Help you switch on the spot if it finds you a better rate.

Gabi says it finds an average savings of $720 per year for its customers.

It is a true apples-to-apples comparison at the same coverage levels and deductibles you currently have. Once you sign up, you never have to shop again. Gabi’s software has your policy on file and keeps on monitoring for savings as your life changes.

Day 7: Take 10 Minutes to Secure Your Family’s Future

Many of us would rather not think about death — let alone life insurance.

However, securing life insurance is an important financial move, especially if you’re married, have kids or are in your prime earning years. It pays your dependents when you die, which can help pay for your funeral, mortgage or other debt.

So if “get life insurance” has lingered on your to-do list far too long, take the next 10 minutes to figure it out. Don’t worry — it’s way easier than you think.

A company like Policygenius offers you an easy way for anyone to compare and buy life insurance. The search engine allows you to compare policies and get instant quotes. Once you find the right fit, you can apply right online.

If you’re young and mostly healthy, consider purchasing term life insurance online from Ethos. It partners with a major A-rated life insurance carrier to provide policies for a low price. For example, $30 a month could get your family $1 million of coverage.

Anyone, including independent contractors, can secure term life insurance through Ethos without a medical exam or extensive paperwork; just fill out a digital application.

Bonus: Get Paid for Shopping

The best kind of savings are the kind where you don’t have to do a thing. That’s what makes the Drop app so appealing.

What’s special about Drop is all you have to do is link your credit and debit cards (no coupon clipping or hoarding receipts!). When you make a Drop-qualified purchase, you’ll automatically earn points, whether you’re grocery shopping at Walmart, hailing an Uber or ordering a pizza.

The points will add up, and you can exchange them for gift cards in the app to popular retailers like Amazon and Starbucks.

To double down on your effortless earnings, also download the Shopkick app.

Once you sign up, the app pays you in “kicks” for walking into certain stores (including Walmart, Target, TJMaxx and more). You can redeem them for gift cards to a number of retailers, including Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Sephora and Best Buy.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s going to need more than seven days to fix his finances.

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