Consumers want financial fitness for new year - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Consumers want financial fitness for new year

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January 7, 2007

Albany -- At the start of the new year many people are getting their holiday bills in the mail, thinking about filing taxes, and planning spring break or summer vacations. Some people seek help from a financial planner, which keeps the budgeting experts very busy this time of year.

Lonnie Bowman of the Phoenix Group Financial Resource Center shared tips on how to reduce financial stress.

Financial experts say increased spending and late payments on loans and credit cards are piling up on people these days. It's this time of year when financial consultant Lonnie Bowman meets with clients playing catch up on credit card payments. Many who want to get their finances straight and start saving.

"Being financially sound is very important. So this is a very good time to set some new financial goals and begin to plan for the year," said Lonnie Bowman.

Bowman says begin that plan by setting up a budget. One he suggests is called the 40-60 plan.

"Ten percent for savings, 10% for charity, 10% for investment, and 10% for you. That's the 40, and the other 60% can be used for expenses," said Bowman.

And if you have a balance on your credit card, make sure that's in the budget to payoff too. Bowman suggests getting any balances on your cards below half of the maximum limit. A card with a high balance or maxxed out will negatively affect your credit score.

"Your credit score now determines your credit rates, and if your credit score is low that means you pay more in terms of your interest rates on your loans and your finance," said Bowman.

It may also affect your ability to rent a home or get a cell phone.

Scores range from 300 to 800, and the higher the better. The Experian National Score Index puts the US average credit score at 675. It's considered a good score, but a number going down for many people. Bowman says to improve your score don't have more than three credit cards and avoid applying for store credit cards, each inquiry will lower your credit score. Bowman believes that American's overall financial health needs to change.

"There's still a serious problem in terms of overspending," said Bowman.

A problem that can be overcome, if people educate themselves and spend within their means.

Financial consultants recommend checking your credit report at least once or twice a year. But beware of some companies offering you a free report because you may be asked or required to purchase other services from the company.

Some trusted companies include Experian, EquifaxTransUnionFederal Trade Commission is offering free reports through freeannualreports.com. According to the FTC, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.

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