Taking control of your finances might seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. However, there are actually several money-smart moves you can make in a matter of minutes.
Here are 13 smart financial tasks you can tackle in 10 minutes or less. If you have some free time in the coming weeks, consider taking one or more of these steps to manage your money better and improve your financial well-being.
1. Check Your Credit Report
One-third of Americans have never checked their credit reports, according to a survey by the credit bureau TransUnion. However, doing so is fast, easy and free, thanks to a federal law that requires each of the three credit bureaus to provide you with a copy of your credit report once a year.
To get started, visit Annualcreditreport.com and click "Request yours now." You will then fill out a brief form requiring your name, birthday, Social Security number, current address and previous address if you moved in the last two years. Next, choose to receive a report from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. You can opt to get all three reports at once or stagger them throughout the year. You might also be asked to verify your identity by providing some information only you would know, such as the year in which you secured a particular loan.
Your free credit report will include information about your credit history, including credit cards and loans, the amount owed and your payment history. Look for any mistakes that could be hurting your credit score and affecting your ability to get a loan. Finally, you should check for accounts you don't recognize or other suspicious activity that might suggest you're a victim of identity theft. If you find an error, don't hesitate to file a dispute with the credit bureau that provided the report.
2. Check Your Credit Score
Unfortunately, your free credit report doesn't come with a free credit score. However, you should take the time — and it will take less than 10 minutes — to get your score. The fact is that lenders consider credit scores when deciding if and when to extend credit and at what rate. If your score is low, you can and should start taking steps to improve it.
The FICO score is the most widely used credit score among lenders and ranges from 300 to 850. You can get your FICO score from the three credit bureaus for $19.95 each at myFICO.com. Additionally, several credit card issuers, including Chase and Citi, are now providing cardholders with free FICO scores on their monthly statements.
Individuals should also consider checking their VantageScores regularly. Created by the three credit bureaus, VantageScore 3.0 ranges from 300 to 850 and features improvements on earlier scoring models. You can get a free VantageScore from sites such as Credit.com, CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com and Quizzle.com.
3. Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
In addition to providing free credit scores, Credit.com, CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com offer free credit monitoring.
It only takes a couple of minutes to sign up, and members receive alerts if there are any changes to their credit reports or scores. (Thanks to a credit-monitoring alert I received from Credit Karma, I discovered that my credit score had dropped because of an unintentionally late payment. I quickly corrected the problem and raised my score in the process. See How I Increased My Credit Score by 76 Points With One Phone Call.)
These free services only monitor your report and score from one or two of the credit bureaus. For more comprehensive credit monitoring, you can pay a monthly fee for one of the services offered by the credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — or companies such as Identity Guard and TrustedID.
4. Open a No-Fee Checking Account
The average checking account features about 25 fees, and some checking accounts charge up to 50 different fees, according to a report by WalletHub. If you have an account with a bank that charges you $5, $10 or more every time your account balance dips below a certain level, or hits you with a high fee for overdrafts, it might be time to look for an account with better benefits.
Several online banks offer checking accounts that don't charge monthly maintenance fees, boast low, non-sufficient funds fees and even pay interest on deposits. Check out the interest-bearing checking accounts at Bank5Connect, Bank of Internet, FNBO Direct and Ally Bank, and stop paying fees once and for all. It only takes about 10 minutes to open one of these accounts online, and the benefits can be significant.
5. Open a Savings Account
A recent GOBankingRates' survey found that about 20 percent of adults don't have savings accounts. Not only do savvy individuals save money for retirement, but they also set aside cash for emergencies and even fun activities like vacations rather than relying on credit. Additionally, your money can grow in an interest-bearing account. While most savings accounts feature low rates, a little is better than nothing.
Online banks tend to pay higher yields than brick-and-mortar institutions because they have less overhead and can pass on their savings to customers. You can find the best rates and open an account online in 10 minutes or less at banks such as MySavingsDirect, Ally Bank, Barclays Bank and iGObanking.com.
6. Set Up Automated Bill Pay
More than one-third of consumers have paid a bill after its due date, according to a survey conducted by Fiserv, a provider of financial services technology. Not only can paying bills late hurt your credit score, but it can also lead to hefty fees, leaving you with less money to pay other bills.
If you're having trouble remembering to pay bills, consider setting up automatic payments. Many banks offer free online bill payment, and it only takes minutes to set up automated payments to your service providers, if you have your account numbers handy. You can also visit the websites of your service providers and credit issuers to set up automated bill payments by providing your bank account information.
7. Set Up Bank and Credit Account Alerts
Your bank and credit card issuers likely offer the option to set up alerts notifying you of activity on your accounts. It only takes a few minutes to enter the email address or mobile phone number where you want to receive alerts and check off the types of alerts you desire. Additionally, these alerts offer a great way to keep tabs on your account balances and identify fraudulent activity.
For example, many banks offer low balance alerts, which notify members if their account balances drop below a certain dollar amount. This feature can prevent users from overdrawing and getting hit with fees. You can also arrange for your credit card company to notify you in the event that charges exceed a certain amount. (Thanks to the alerts I set up, I discovered quickly that my card number had been stolen and that someone was making unauthorized charges. I immediately called the card company to dispute the charges and close the account.)
8. Download Your Bank's Mobile App
Almost 80 percent of banks and credit unions now offer mobile banking services, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In addition to setting up account alerts, you should download your bank's mobile app in order to check your account balance and respond to alerts on the go.
Mobile banking features can vary from bank to bank, but many apps offer the ability to deposit checks remotely — which can save you the time and hassle of driving to a branch to make deposits. Further, some apps allow users to make person-to-person payments. If you don't have cash and need to split a restaurant bill with a friend, you can easily send money from your account to his or hers.
9. Download a Budgeting App
The biggest money challenge Americans face is sticking to a budget, according to GOBankingRates' 2015 Life + Money survey. If you need help keeping your spending under control, a budgeting app such as Mint or Mvelopes might be the solution.
Both of these apps are free to try and take about 10 minutes to download and set up. To start, create an account by entering your email address and password. Next, link your bank and credit accounts by entering your usernames and passwords. Doing this enables the apps to monitor your spending and alert you when you're exceeding the budgets you set for various categories.
10. Re-shop Your Auto Insurance
Re-shopping your auto insurance every year doesn't take much time and can result in significant savings if you find another insurer that will offer you a lower rate. You can compare quotes from several insurers in a matter of minutes by visiting sites such as InsuranceQuotes.com, CarInsurance.com and TheZebra.com.
At TheZebra.com, for example, you simply need to enter your car's year, make and model, along with your zip code. You can provide additional details to get a more accurate quote. On average, TheZebra.com users save 30 percent to 40 percent of what they are currently paying, said Joshua Dziabiak, chief operating officer and co-founder of The Zebra. In states like Florida and Michigan, where premiums are high, this could mean an annual savings of $1,500 to $2,000.
11. Ask About Insurance Discounts
Another way to lower your home and auto insurance premiums is to call your agent to make sure you're getting all of the discounts to which you're entitled. For example, some insurers offer discounts if you drive fewer than a certain number of miles each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. If you've started carpooling with colleagues or are driving less, it's important to let your agent know.
Additionally, you should ask about discounts for students with good grades and those who take driving courses. Installing anti-theft devices, having a good credit record and avoiding accidents or moving violations for a certain period can also help you save on insurance costs.
Individuals can also save money on homeowners insurance. You might qualify for a discount if you've installed home security devices, modernized your heating and plumbing systems, made your home more resistant to storms and disasters or if you are a certain age or retired.
12. Get Life Insurance Quotes
If a spouse or child depends on your income, you need to have a life insurance policy in place to help replace that income in the event of your death. You can quickly compare quotes from several insurers at sites such as AccuQuote.com and PolicyGenius.com.
You will need to enter your gender and date of birth, as well as information regarding your health level and tobacco use. It might take a few days to complete the application process and undergo a health screening once you've selected an insurer. However, starting the process of getting a life insurance quote takes just moments.
13. Update Account Beneficiaries
Take a few minutes to log onto your financial accounts — such as retirement and brokerage accounts — to ensure your beneficiary designations are up to date.
For example, if you got divorced recently, but your spouse is still listed as your beneficiary for your 401k, you will want to name a new beneficiary. If not, the money in your account will go to your ex-wife, even if your will states otherwise.
Completing the above tasks might not fix all your financial woes. However, they should go a long way toward balancing your budget for 2016.
From GoBankingRates.com: 13 quick ways smart people save money