April is National Financial Literacy Month: Get your head in the game (Thrive Time, that is!)
April. For you, does it mean that you spent the prior weeks lamenting the looming tax deadline? You might be able to get away with putting your head in the sand the rest of the year, but not in April. Of course, I love April. It means everyone’s paying attention to my favorite subject – personal finances and financial education!
In April, that which we’ve filed away or avoided suddenly screams, “Hey – I’m top priority now!” For some, tax season is frightening, stressful, and even overwhelming. It might be the reason April was designated by the U.S. Congress as National Financial Literacy Month – a time to showcase the importance of embracing sound money management practices.
Results from a 2012 survey by the and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (NBPCA) revealed a disturbing trend to those of us who’ve been sounding the alarm. A significant number of Americans lack basic, critical financial skills.
- 56% of adults in the U.S. do not have a budget
- 77% of U.S. adults do not pay their bills on time
- 30% of adults in the U.S. do not have any non-retirement savings*
So while this month’s campaign’s not exactly sexy, it’s a key ingredient to our nation’s financial wellness. What’s more important than taking stock of your family’s financial health? Or, equipping your children to earn and steward money wisely? Empower yourself with knowledge – commit to taking small steps that yield a big payoff later.
You can start to assess your own financial acumen by tackling two topics: taxes and credit. (Like I said – not exactly exciting. But necessary!)
Taxes: Three good reasons to hire a tax professional
How do you manage your tax returns? Did you struggle through doing on your own this year, or in years prior? My advice is to enlist an expert. The best way to learn to ski is to hire an instructor, right? Same theory goes. You could stumble through on your own, or you could partner with a CPA or certified tax professional. (It’s particularly important if you own a small business!)
Many people find working with a tax professional is well worth the investment. Instead of wasting time sifting through paperwork, the focus shifts to saving money. Professional advice ensures:
- Your tax deductions are maximized
- You tax liabilities are minimized
- You have a partner in audits, and an expert to contact for future financial issues
Of course, don’t wait until April to talk with your tax professional. Take your last three years’ tax returns with you… they may find savings opportunities for you right away. Sound planning throughout the year that takes into account your entire portfolio prevents those tax related migraines in April.
Speaking of Credit …
Credit could not be a more relevant subject during National Financial Literacy Month. Often times, it’s debt that gets people into so much trouble. Credit card debt, especially, has a way of snowballing if left unchecked.
I believe that like many things, credit cards aren’t the problem – it’s the way they get used. My advice is to use credit, but very carefully. Stick to these guidelines:
- Check your credit score at www.freecreditreport.com. Scan it for errors, and report any discrepancies.
- Ensure your outstanding balance remains in proportion with your available credit. (For example, if you have a $10,000 limit, never allow your balance to exceed 3,000.)
- Use your credit cards, and pay them off at the end of each month; or pay as much as you are able.
- Shop for the lowest interest rate possible; you can often transfer your balance to a company offering a no-interest deal, but remember, you’ll have to be vigilant about paying it off, or the interest will skyrocket.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – even if you yourself struggle with learning the basics of financial planning, you can still do better for your kids. How about learning together? Summer’s coming – so I’ve got an idea. Why not get a copy of our award-winning board game, Thrive Time for Teens?
I promise your kids will love it – in fact, we’ve been traveling across Arizona for several months taking the Thrive Time Challenge to area high schools to rave reviews. Kids are hungry to learn about this important topic.
Please talk to your teachers and principals, and advocate for financial literacy curriculum.
What’s that saying about an ounce of prevention? Before your child slides into debt give him or her the tools to stay out of it in the first place. It’s a gift you’re also giving to yourself!