Money Matters - Being Responsible with Your Finances

Managing your personal finances can be complicated, tricky, and stressful. With the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes lose track of our finances and can end up in debt or worse. According to a study by Pew Trust, the amount of debt proportional to income has increased by 80% in recent years. With the increase in debt, it’s important to stay informed on how to manage debts and make smart financial decisions. Benefits.gov is focusing on this critical issue in April to coincide with Financial Literacy Month. In an effort to help citizens establish and maintain healthy financial habits, here are some financial literacy tips:

1. Commit to change. Recognize your attitude toward money management and explore what changes you can make in your spending and saving habits. This is the initial step to better managing your finances. We encourage you to check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” resources for more information on how debt is racked up and what you can do to avoid some common mistakes.

2. Find out where your money is going and ways to reduce spending. The Financial Literacy and Education Commission sponsors a national financial education website, MyMoney.gov, to help equip the public with tools such as financial checklists, budgeting worksheets and calculators. Use the worksheets to track your expenses and see where you are spending a little extra. If it’s groceries, you can save by visiting the Benefits.gov Food/Nutrition page to locate food programs to help cut down costs, such as the emergency food assistance program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

3. Get copies of your credit report. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act provides every consumer the right to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a nonprofit financial counseling organization offering free and affordable financial services in person, on the phone, or online.

4. Pay down debt. You can start paying down your debts in a couple of ways. You can repay the debt with the highest interest rate first or concentrate on paying the debt with the smaller balance. If you have loans to repay, visit the Benefits.gov Browse by Category page to discover resources on how to better manage your loans. There you will find resources on opportunities to assist with paying back educational/student loans and refinancing existing loans for veterans and active servicemembers. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also provides a number of loans and refinancing options, like the Basic FHA Insured Home Mortgage.

5. Check up on your insurance. Look at what services are offered and covered under your health insurance along with researching the co-pays and premiums. You should also compare policies for your auto-insurance policy, disability, and life insurance costs. Check out the Healthcare and Insurance category pages on the Benefits.gov webpages to learn more about plans in your own state.

Financial Literacy Month is only the beginning of improving your money-managing habits, and we hope you will take steps to expand your financial knowledge throughout the year. Benefits.gov is always here to help you find resources to assist your financial situation.