By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud
The start of a new year inevitably means many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. Some of the more common resolutions include spending more time with family and friends, getting into shape, quitting smoking, or getting more organized. Unfortunately, according to researchers, while more than half of consumers believe that they will fulfill their resolutions, just 12 percent will actually be successful.
As consumer advocates, we frequently preach the value of setting small, defined and achievable goals. For example, instead of resolving to get out of debt in a single year (a goal that many make, but few achieve), resolve to allocate an extra $30-50 per month towards paying down debt. In this way, you achieve success early (you’re 8.3 percent of the way to your yearly goal there after the first month!), creating a small victory and incentivizing additional work towards the goal.
So, in honor of 2011, here are 11 achievable goals that consumers can resolve to accomplish in the New Year.
- Pay 1 percent more on top of your minimum monthly mortgage payment. Doing so on a typical 30-year fixed rate mortgage could knock months and hundreds (or thousands) of dollars off the cost of the loan over its lifetime.
- Don’t make any online purchases from a company you haven’t researched with the Better Business Bureau. BBB.org is a wealth of information on online and “brick and mortar” companies, including complaints made and resolved. Don’t shop online without it!
- Pay more than the minimum monthly payment on your credit cards. Credit card interest rates are often in excess of 10 percent and may be 20 percent or more. Unless your investments are returning profits at a greater rate than your credit card interest rates, it makes a lot of sense to “invest” in paying down high-interest debt.
- Check your credit report at least twice. Consumers are entitled to a free credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies once per year. While these reports may not give you your credit score for free, you can see if there are old accounts or incorrect information that you can fix and (hopefully) improve your credit score. This small step could save you thousands on home or auto loans where credit scores play a big role in interest rates.
- Do a “communications audit” once per year. Most consumers subscribe to some combination of cable TV, wireless phone, wired phone (with local and long distance) and broadband Internet service. At least once a year, gather the bills for these services and total up what you’re paying for all of them. Then do an honest appraisal of what you actually use. Many consumer will find that they use their cell phones for most long distance calls and don’t need a second long distance plan on their home phone service. Other consumers may find that they rarely watch premium movie channels and can drop them from their cable package.
- Add any new phone numbers to the federal “Do Not Call” list. Consumers who change residence, switch carriers, or get new cell phones may also get new phone numbers. If you want to limit telemarketing calls to these numbers, consider visiting www.donotcall.gov to add these new numbers to the “Do Not Call” registry. Extra Credit: Some states maintain their own “do not call” lists. Check with your state government to see if such a list exists and add numbers to that as well.
- Have a “shredding party!” Consumers tend to accumulate lots of paper, including bills, credit card offers, account statements and other materials, which may contain lots of personally identifying information. These can become fodder for identity thieves. Invest in a good shredder then invite friends over with their bills, credit card offers, etc. and shred away. Here’s a great guide to throwing your own “shredding party.”
- Create a household budget. It’s tremendously difficult to pay down debt if you aren’t living within your means to begin with. For most people, creating a simple personal or family budget is the first step in figuring out what their “means” are. This doesn’t have to be as tedious as it sounds, and having a good handle on the money coming in and going out of family accounts can actually relieve a lot of stress. The BBB has a great guide for creating a budget here.
- Increase your 401(k) contribution by 1 percent. Many consumers may have been turned off on investing after the recent economic meltdown. However, you still need to save for retirement, and – for most consumers – that means investing in a 401(k) plan. By increasing your contribution by just 1 percent, you probably won’t miss the money and you’ll be investing in your future.
- Check your privacy settings on Facebook. Let’s face it: It seems like more of us are on Facebook these days than aren’t. Unfortunately, most users never take a look at their privacy settings. You may be sharing more of your personal information with marketers and other users than you’d like. Check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s step-by-step guide to maximizing your privacy on Facebook.
- Don’t give to a charity you haven’t checked out first. The holidays are a season ripe for charity scams – where unscrupulous fraudsters use the names of respected charities to con consumers out of their money. Fortunately, a number of online resources are available to help consumers check out a charity ahead of time, including GuideStar.org, CharityNavigator.org and Give.org. For more tips on avoiding charity scams, check out our tip page by clicking here.