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Money woes mainly self-inflicted

By Marcie Geffner · Bankrate.com
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

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?

Follow me on Twitter: @marciegeff.

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16 Comments
Kevin
January 10, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I'm with Vic.

I ran into the same situation back in 2009. Got bought out by a new company and off I went - right out the door after 16 years of service. But, I was always great with my finances. With all that I had in my checking and savings accounts, I could have easily survived for 2 - 3 years. And just like Vic, I slept well while laid-off.

While I do have one major credit card, I rarely use. And when I do, its just to throw the bank that gave me the card "a bone" just for the great interest rate that I have with it.

Its not rocket science, people. Live within your means, save and you'll see that having super nice materialistic items isn't the smart way to go.

Dave
January 10, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Lynette, You'll get no mercy from the "Anthony's" of the world but, you will from me. Glad to hear your back on track.

Dave
January 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I'm an American living in a capitalist society. I believe in personal responsibility BUT I hold the lending institutions 90% for uncontrolled consumer debt. The borrower submits an application and credit check, they made the call. America is wired to want want want. I remember clearly in 2007-2008 an investment firm commercial with Dennis Hopper as a retiree saying, "Me playing shuffle board, I don't think so" then it cut to a 40 foot sail boat in the tropics with great looking beautiful people in diving gear laughing drinking green label beer. Those people are now playing shuffle board in a 55+ trailer park in Lakeland Fl. flat broke. Just saying!!!

Laikacat
January 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Self-inflicted -- true in my case, I should never have run up the balances I did. But I had a good job and I'd always paid more than the minimum and paid it on time for 30 years; but then I was laid off in 2009. After the huge economic downturn in 2009 the credit companies' rates soared. It's ridiculous the penalties that were imposed on an individual with 30 years of excellent credit when only one payment was missed. When circumstances out of my control (layoff and other factors like being told I was eligible for the federal unemployment extension and then being told I wasn't after my initial unemployment period expired) caused by financial problems. 30 years of excellent credit down the drain.... I called the companies and tried to work something out prior to being late on payments and the companies could have cared less. They were extremely rude and dismissive of me and my situation. I've learned my lesson -- no more credit. Citibank and Capital One were the worst of the lot of four credit companies.

dave
January 10, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Stay away from credit except for housing, then be very careful. Also anything you need to sell is worth about 75% less than you think.

Jan W
January 10, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Learn to MEASURE money as well as you learn to count it. We all know how much we have, but it's critically important to measure how far it has to go before you spend a dime. This is especially important for young people!

Chris
January 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Very good artical/advice too many people get the wrong advice from family/friends. Articals like this help people move in the right direction.

Vic
January 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

1. Pay Cash for everything. If you pay cash then the stuff you bought has immediate value, green money right out of your pocket! It will help keep you from buying things you don't really need. Credit cards are to convenient they don't look like money and aren't treated as such!

2. When financial times are good, save and save some more for the down turn because it will come. It all runs in cycles up and down. By the time I lost my job all my debts were paid off, house, cars, credit cards and saved enough cash to last a few years. I was able to sleep very well.

Anthony
January 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Lynette, it literally says that within the first few lines...try reading the article, it's fun.

Lynette Johnston
January 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

you are forgetting one category - people who no longer have 'control over their finances' because they simply don't have a job anymore. I was in that situation 3 yrs ago. I am gratefully employed now - but it's a long road back. Have some mercy.