Improve your balance sheet

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Follow these tips to augment your assets and lessen your liabilities.

1. Save money effortlessly. Stashing money away for vacations, retirement or a rainy day seems simple enough, but without a budget the best-laid plans can wind up derailed. After all, if you don’t know where your money goes, how do you know how much you can sock away each month? Bankrate’s savings strategy story is straightforward: Keep track of your spending, establish specific goals and stick with them.

2. Cover your assets. According to Murphy’s Law, at some point in our lives something can and will go wrong. That’s why we buy insurance. But not all insurance policies are created equal. These five types of insurance are must-haves in certain situations to protect you and your family from catastrophe.

3. Get rid of debt. Most Americans find it tough to get a handle on debt. We simply spend more than we can afford and don’t save enough. While the average American may carry several thousands of dollars of debt, you don’t have to. To improve your balance sheet, cut some major expenses and use the resulting surplus to eliminate debt.

4. Learn investing basics Investing money can be a tricky endeavor for the novice. Financial jargon is often confusing, as is the task of choosing from among thousands of investments. Bankrate demystifies the process in an article on investing fundamentals. Once you have the basics down, you can build a successful portfolio.

5. Pick an investment program. Professional money managers use a variety of methods to try to beat the stock market, including fundamental and technical analyses. The former involves picking stocks based on the economic big picture as it relates to industries and companies. The latter factors the element of human behavior into the equation. For investors, it’s about managing risk and ensuring the best return possible. Read about how the pros play the market and come away with a sense of which approach may be best for you.

6. Take advantage of tax breaks. Americans pay a sizable chunk of their incomes to Uncle Sam in taxes. It’s important to contribute to a greater good that benefits everyone. But the government also wants us to get ahead in life by providing relief in the form of tax breaks. Some tax deductions and credits help us get college educations, save for retirement and become homeowners. Take full advantage of these opportunities to succeed.

7. Find safe havens for cash. Investors seeking refuge from the harsh conditions of the stock market are looking for safe places to park their cash. Fixed-income investments usually provide modest returns while preserving your capital, but in today’s financial climate, some short-term investments are safer bets than others. Read about these safe havens for cash to discover how these investments behave and what kinds of returns you can expect.