The first step to managing your money is to get organized. Start a filing system so you know when your bills are due and how much you owe. It saves time, money and headaches if you keep everything in one place. In your file, keep copies of:

  • Bank statements
  • Credit card and utility bills
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Receipts for tax-deductible expenses
  • Receipts for cash, debit card and credit card purchases
  • Loan agreements and other financial documents
  • Insurance documents

 

Create a budget

Where does your money come from? Where does it go? Expenses like rent, clothes, car, food, tuition and books can drain your earnings faster than you think. It is important to live within your means. Your budget may vary depending on your lifestyle, income and location. This tool from MappingYourFuture.org will help you create your own budget.

If you don’t have enough income to cover your expenses, organize your expenses by needs and wants. Cut back on wants so you don’t overspend.

Monitor your checking and credit card balances

Pay close attention to your checking account and credit card balances. If you spend more than you make on a regular basis, you may find yourself having money trouble. Keep your receipts and make sure they match your bank statement every month.

Use your monthly statement or online banking record to reconcile the balance in your checkbook every month. Online banking allows you to check your balance more often. If you need help learning to balance your checking account, ask your bank or credit union. There is usually a worksheet on the back of your statement to help determine your balance.

Always know the up-to-date balance of your checking account. The balances you get from ATMs or toll-free numbers may be greater than the actual amount in the account. Checks can take several days to clear your account and are not deducted from your balance until they are clear.

Review your credit card statement every month to make sure someone has not stolen your identity and charged on your account.

Credit cards

Credit cards can be a great tool to help you manage your finances. However, they can also make it easy to overspend. When you use your card, you must pay for what you buy. If you spend more money than you are able to repay, you can ruin your credit score, also known as a credit rating.

Businesses may look at your credit score before renting to you, hiring you, making a car loan or issuing you a credit card. Credit information will typically stay on your report for seven years.

You can think of your credit report as your “credit transcript” and your credit score as your “credit GPA.” The scale ranges from 300 to 850. Scores of 700 or more are generally considered to be “good.” Credit scores are based on your total debt, the age of the accounts, number of credit accounts including new credit inquiries, and the proportion of credit card balance to the total available credit card limit.

Choose the best credit card

You are a prime marketing target for credit card companies. Do your research before signing up for a card so you get the best deal. Fees, charges and benefits vary among credit card issuers. Compare these features and select a card that fits your needs:

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the yearly interest rate. Avoid paying interest rates on purchases by paying your balance in full each month. APR is one of the items to compare when looking at credit card offers.

Grace period

Grace period is the time between the date of a purchase and the date interest begins accruing.

Annual fees

Annual fees are charged by many credit card issuers for granting you credit.

Transaction fees and other charges

Transaction fees and other charges are charged if you use your card for a cash advance, if you fail to make a payment on time or if you exceed your credit limit.

Credit card tips

Do

  • Pay the balance in full every month. If you can’t pay the full balance, pay more than the minimum payment so you reduce your principal balance faster.
  • Pay your bill on time.
  • Use your card only for emergencies or for purchases you can afford to pay for that month.
  • Limit the number of cards you have.
  • Keep copies of receipts that are charged and compare them to your statement.
  • If your card is stolen, immediately report it to the credit card company.

Don't

  • Sign up for a credit card to receive a gift.
  • Spend on impulse.
  • Spend up to the maximum credit limit.
  • Share your credit card or account information.
  • Open additional cards to pay off other debt.

Protect yourself from identity theft

Stealing the identity of unsuspecting people is big business. Thieves can obtain your private information by:

  • Looking through your trash
  • Pretending to be a financial institution or government agency and calling you for information
  • Hacking into your email and online accounts
  • Stealing your wallet or purse

Identity theft can ruin your credit rating and your name. Always shred your financial documents and paperwork when you are done with them. Keep your social security card and personal information in a safe place, not in your wallet or in a drawer others can open. Never give someone your social security number or other personal information unless you initiate the contact. Don’t click on links in emails unless you know the sender. Select a password that isn’t obvious to others.

Prevent problems

A security freeze is a great tool for preventing identity theft. Offered through the North Dakota attorney general’s office, a security freeze prevents your credit file from being shared with creditors. Visit ag.nd.gov for more information.

What to do if your identity is stolen

If you suspect someone has stolen your identity, act immediately. Contact your credit card company right away if you have strange charges on your card, receive bills you do not expect or are denied credit even if you’ve paid your bills.

Check your credit report and place a “fraud alert” on the report if needed. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877.322.8228 to order a free credit report. Visit ftc.gov to learn what steps to take if your identity has been stolen.

Where to turn for help

As soon as you realize you may have trouble paying your bills, you need to come up with a plan. You won’t solve anything if you avoid phone calls and other contacts from the people you owe, also known as creditors. Creditors are usually willing to make new arrangements if you work with them.

The first step is to determine the amount of money you earn every month and the expenses you must pay. Necessary expenses include:

  • Rent/housing
  • Food
  • Car payments/transportation
  • Loan payments
  • Insurance

Then, create a plan that shows the amount you can realistically pay to each creditor every month. Now it’s time to call creditors and make arrangements so you can repay your debt without damaging your credit rating.

Get help managing your money

Get help if you have difficulty developing a plan. Credit counseling agencies offer advice and take an active role to help you manage your money. A number of nonprofit organizations provide this service for free or for a small charge. You can receive information on budgeting, setting up a payment plan and educational programs. Avoid agencies that charge large fees for this service.

Avoid quick fixes

Some companies prey on people who can’t pay their bills by promising to take care of everything for a fee. Avoid these companies because they can often try to talk you into filing for bankruptcy and charge to help you do so. Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years and hinders your ability to get credit, so it should always be the last resort.

Practice good habits and keep spending under control. If you get in trouble, solve the issue rather than ignore it.