Many people who haven’t saved enough money, or who suffered a financial setback during the recession, ask me if it’s too late for them to make a difference in their personal finances.
My immediate response is: What do you want to accomplish and why is it too late?
People who have experienced a foreclosure say that they will never be able to purchase a home again. Others, especially people 50 and older, say that they haven’t saved enough money for retirement and can’t do so because of heavy debt. Still others talk about the impossibility of saving enough money to pay for their child’s college education. I tell them that it’s never too late.
Here are some specific actions that you can take to turn around your financial life and accomplish your goals:
- If you have lost your home because of a foreclosure, take control of the factors that caused the foreclosure. For starters, pull your credit report, examine it and correct any errors. Next, be certain to pay all of your bills on time and reduce the amount of debt. Both of these actions may help raise your credit score.
Once you have stabilized your finances, begin saving for a down payment and find a home that is affordable. The good news here is that, despite the improvement in housing prices, many urban areas still have plenty of affordable homes.
- Saving for retirement. People with lots of debt and no savings need to develop a plan to address both needs. Don’t think it’s an “all or nothing” proposition. Take the money left after paying your monthly bills and set aside a portion for debt payment and retirement savings.
If the interest rates on credit cards and other debt are too high, speak with each creditor about lowering your interest rate, which could save you hundreds of dollars each month. The longer you’ve been making payments on time, the more receptive each creditor will be. My strong payment history recently enabled me to lower the interest rate by two percent on a credit card I use for business travel.
- Saving for a child’s college education. Student loan debt is crimping the budgets of parents and young adults nationwide, so consider alternate strategies. To keep costs under control, students need to consider attending a community college and state universities instead of private schools. Students also need to begin working part-time and summer jobs during high school and pocketing the savings to pay for tuition. Finally, both parents and students need to research scholarship options, speak to the high school guidance counselor and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for grants.
- Resources for additional assistance. There are plenty of free or low-cost resources available to people still struggling. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can direct anyone to their local credit counseling organization for help in putting together a budget and finding low-cost resources for a wide range of services. For more information, visit www.nfcc.org. People behind on their mortgage payments who want to avoid foreclosure can call 888-995-HOPE or visit www.995hope.org.