Consumers who are struggling with financial problems might be stepping up to admit they're principally responsible for their own situation.
That's one finding of a recent poll conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC, the national nonprofit credit-counseling organization.
The poll asked consumers to complete the sentence: "The majority of my financial problems have been…"
In response, 63 percent selected "self-inflicted (ex: overspending, financially unorganized, etc.)," while 37 percent selected "caused by events beyond my control (ex: job loss, medical, etc.)."
The poll was conducted via the NFCC website in December 2012, with 2,093 people responding.
In a statement, NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham offered an upbeat take on the result. "The first step to correcting a problem is recognizing it," Cunningham said. "Taking ownership of financial problems empowers consumers, putting them in the driver's seat to affect change."
The organization followed up its survey results with 12 steps that consumers can implement at a recommended pace of one per month or faster.
Here's the full list:
1. Review your credit reports. Much of your financial future depends on the contents of your credit reports. You're allowed to get one free report from each of the three major bureaus once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you're planning a major purchase, get all three reports at once. Otherwise, stagger your requests throughout the year so you can monitor your reports for signs of mistakes or identity theft.
2. Find out your credit score. A small fee to obtain your credit score could be money well spent since your score is a major indicator of whether a lender will extend credit to you, and if so, at what interest rate. There are multiple scores, each with a different scale, so be sure you understand the range of the score you've purchased.
3. Reduce your debt. Lock up your credit cards until your balances are paid in full. If your debt is burdensome, get help from a reputable credit counseling agency.
4. Commit to saving. Starting small is better than not starting at all. One way to save is to dedicate all your raises, bonuses, cash birthday gifts and other windfalls into savings.
5. Get financially organized. Create a personal financial center, even if it's just an accordion folder, so you'll have easy access to all your financial documents. Review your financial center at least once per week.
6. Pay your bills on time. Late payments can trigger late fees, damage your credit report and lower your credit score. Consider setting up online bill payment for recurring bills.
7. Avoid overdraft fees. Stuffing receipts into your car visor can be a costly habit. Instead, record each transaction in your check register on the spot and double-check your balance by viewing your account online at least once per week.
8. Track your spending for 30 days. Instruct everyone in your household who spends money to write down every cent he or she spends for one month. Then get together to review how the money was spent and make adjustments as necessary.
9. Create a realistic spending plan. A budget puts you in charge of how your choose to spend your money. Make it too strict, and you won't stick to it. Make it too lenient, and it won't help you accomplish your goals.
10. Collect 'free' money. Contribute the maximum allowed amount to your retirement plan or at least meet the employer-matched amount. Not doing so is truly throwing away free money. Ask about flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts, which also can lower your taxable income.
11. Get an annual insurance check-up. Make an appointment with an independent insurance agent to confirm that your coverage is appropriate for each category. Ask about ways to lower your premiums by taking advantage of discounts for loyalty, good driving and bundling multiple policies.
12. Consider refinancing your mortgage. Refinancing could help you save a significant sum over the term of your loan. Use online calculators to help you compare the options. Don't extend your term just to lower your monthly payment, unless that's absolutely necessary for you to stay afloat financially.
Can you offer any other suggestions on staying financially accountable? What rules do you have trouble following?
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