For many of us spring just arrived – at least officially. We’re watching our lawns green up, thinking about having carpets cleaned and wondering when we’ll have time to clean those dirty windows. Now would also be a good time to think about your personal finances and what you could do in terms of spring-cleaning them. Here are nine tips that could help spruce them up, too.
#1. Revisit those credit card offers
The credit card companies are now hollering for business. One research firm has reported that the direct mail offers from credit card companies increased 12% between November and December. Did you receive one or more of these offers? Now might be a good time to apply for one, as the rewards offers are getting juicier. In fact, the credit card companies have been 25% more generous in handing out frequent-flyer miles, rewards points and sign up bonuses versus what they were offering just a year ago.
#2. Check out the new home financing options
The big quasi-governmental organizations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently announced programs where you could put down as little as 3% when buying a home. The Federal Housing Agency requires as little as 3.5% down and recently lowered its annual mortgage premium. So if you’re thinking about buying a house now might be a good time to start shopping.
#3. Go cheap
There are some items were it doesn’t pay to be cheap such as toilet paper. However they’re other items where you can save a good deal by skimping. Grocery items are often marked way down when they near their sell-by dates. These can be perfectly okay so long as you either freeze or cook them right away. Inexpensive dishes and glassware will hold up just as well is the more costly ones. Plus, it hurts a lot less when you break a plate. Another place to save is on children’s clothes, as they will soon be outgrown anyway.
#4. Get your FICO score free
JP Morgan Chase, USAA, the State Employees’ Credit Union, Ally Financial, Discover and Bank of America are in the process of rolling out programs that will provide their customers with their FICO scores free. This is a monumental change because it will help you know your own creditworthiness, which is critical when it comes to applying for a loan or credit card. However, this is an area where it pays to be a bit careful as not all credit scores are created equal – even those that carry the FICO brand. But whichever you get should be close enough to your true FICO to know how potential lenders will view you.
#5. Move your money to an online savings account
The job market has approved this past year and gas prices dropped dramatically. If these have left you with some extra money you could save the best place to put it isn’t in a conventional bank or credit union savings account. These have an annual yield of around 0.0017% meaning that if you were to save $1000 you would earn just $1.70. But the online banks can generally offer higher interest rates and charge lower fees because they are not required to maintain brick-and-mortar branches. As an example of this MySavingsDirect and GE Capital Bank are currently offering 1.05%. While this may not change your life much it is certainly better than what you would get from your local bank.
We know that if you’ve been rejected for a credit card it can really sting. There are ways to maximize your chances of getting the cards you want and the most important is, of course, to maintain a high credit score. The way you do this is to pay your debts on time and carry as little debt as you possibly can. You should also space out your credit applications. You could call and ask for your application to be reconsidered if you have been rejected. Your creditor might send you a rejection letter explaining why you were rejected. In this case learn a lesson and take whatever steps would be required to remedy the problem. You can learn more information about raising your credit score by checking out this brief video.
#7. Consider leasing you next car
If you can pay cash for your car and keep it past your loan’s payoff date you will probably come out ahead financially. But if you are always shackled to a car payment because you trade in frequently, then leasing could be a good choice. You will have lower payments because you’re paying for the depreciation of the car only over the term of the lease. Also, the car will almost always be under warranty because most leases are for three years. As an example of what this could mean, if you were to lease a 2015 Chevy Malibu for three years you will come out $4000 ahead then if you were to buy the car with a five-year loan and then sell it after three years.
#8. Check out a HELOC
If you have equity in your home now could be a good time to tap it. It’s likely that the Fed will raise interest rates in the coming months and you might be able to get a HELOC or home equity line of credit with a good temporary fixed rate before any interest rate increase. While HELOCs generally have interest rates that fluctuate, some of the current offers have a fixed rate from 12 months to many years and this can be a way to save money if you plan to pay it back before the fixed-rate period ends. And it could be a good way to finance renovations to your home, to cover college tuition or to consolidate your credit card debts.
#9. Save money with free coupon apps
If you stayed away from using coupons because it all seemed too time-consuming then rejoice. It’s now as simple as swiping the screen on your smart phone. There are dozens of apps available that will help you compare prices, navigate sales and even get money back on some of the stuff you buy. ShopSavvy and RedLaser will let you scan an item’s barcode and then will tell you how much it costs at different online stores and if there are special deals available on the item at nearby stores. The app CouponSherpa includes coupons from hundreds of restaurants and retailers and RetailMeNot will alert you as to those stores near you that have coupons and deals available. PriceJump has a feature that will tell you precisely where you can find the best price on an item in each of three categories – Amazon, local and online.