Forget Your Money Resolutions! Make a Plan in 2013

Here are the usual strictures:

  • I will curb my spending in the new year.
  • I will systematically reduce my credit balances to reasonable levels.
  • I will pay more attention to my credit limits and cash balances.
  • I will be more attentive to activities in my credit and bank accounts.
  • I will make a budget and stick to it religiously.
  • I will live within my means.
Then we remember that Valentine's Day is around the corner, followed closely by April 15, summer vacations, the annual miscellany of birthdays and weddings, and damn if those pesky holidays don't spring up again -- thus the cycle of personal financial destruction continues.

But you know very well that the cycle that never ends must end. If it doesn't, the financial dysfunction will continue and the hole we dig for ourselves only becomes deeper. Kicking the habit requires discipline, self-awareness and a willingness to break self-destructive patterns.

There are those who view credit reports as a manifestation of one's prowess at money management. I view them as self-awareness vehicles.

Paying bills on time, having a rational relationship between the credit you have and the amount you use, building a long credit history, having a good mix of credit accounts (mortgages, credit cards and auto loans) and not going on a credit acquisition binge are starting points.

Too often consumers avoid looking at their credit reports because they are convinced that the news is bad and/or unnecessary -- unless and until they need to make a transaction that involves credit. It's a mistake to think that way. With the myriad opportunities we have to review our credit profiles and scores, there is no good reason to avoid them. That only one in five take advantage of their free credit report from each of the three agencies available for public access at the federally mandated site AnnualCreditReport.com speaks volumes about public reluctance to monitor credit.

Credit.com can also show you the high points of your credit report with our free Credit Report Card. You can get your Experian Score (with a comparison of how it relates to the ever-pervasive FICO and Vantage Scores), a grade on how you're doing in the five major areas that comprise a credit score, see how you compare to others and find offers for products and services that are a good match for you. And, we are not alone. Other sites offer similar programs. The real payoff only comes if you pay attention!

What if the information in your credit report is wrong? Demand a correction! By law, it will have to be handled within 30 days. If the information is correct but negative, place a 100-word clarification in your file or develop a compelling argument to effectively present your case as to what went wrong, how you are curing the situation and when you anticipate seeing improvement.

Credit can work for you if you treat it as something you manage, not a chronicle of unfortunate things that happen to you.

Successful money managers deal with adversity and turn lemons into lemonade. Your credit is your economic resume that you can control and build; provided, you are on top of it. Whether you pay for monitoring programs, personally monitor your credit and debit accounts daily or enroll in programs offered by banks and credit card companies to stay up on transactions in your credit card or bank accounts, you call the shots and reap the rewards of your vigilance.

Always keep in mind -- regardless of how many laws are on the books to protect us, or how vigorously enforced, the ultimate guardian of the consumer is the consumer. No one has a greater incentive to protect our financial security than we do. No one has a greater knowledge of what we do than we do.

Build a comfortable credit zone. Build a comfortable life. Start now in 2013.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

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