April is National Poetry Month, Jazz Appreciation Month and Mathematics Awareness Month. But I’m not going to share my favorite free verse improvised tribute to Algebra.
That’s because April is also Financial Literacy Month and I’m going to share some helpful tips – for all ages – from the Federal Trade Commission.
• Create a budget. The first step toward taking control of your financial life is to find out how much money you take in and how much you spend. Use our budget worksheet to get started. It can be found at bit.ly/2KXKxkT.
• Pay yourself first. Consider using a payroll savings plan to automatically deposit a certain amount of money into your savings account each payday. You can’t fritter it away if you’ve already socked it away.
• Keep credit card use under control. If possible, pay your full balance every month. Paying only the minimum amount due each month can result in finance charges that quickly make small purchases very costly. Your credit score also can take a hit.
• Protect your personal information: know who you’re sharing it with; store and dispose of it securely, for example by using a cross-cut shredder instead of throwing sensitive documents in the trash or recycling; and maintain appropriate security on your computers and other electronic devices. This includes staying current on all software updates and not clicking on email links or attachments – even if the email comes from someone you know. Clicking on links or attachments can install software on your devices that puts your information at risk.
• Regularly order your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. Make sure your information is accurate and complete before you apply for a mortgage or other loan, buy insurance, or apply for a job. If you find errors, dispute them.
• At the car dealership, learn about your options before you lease or finance a new or used vehicle.
• Comparison shop for home loans and mortgages. A mortgage is a product, just like a car, so the price and terms may be negotiable. Compare all the costs involved in obtaining a mortgage. Shopping, comparing and negotiating can save you thousands of dollars.
• Be wary of reverse mortgages, also known as home equity conversion mortgages. There are a lot of factors to consider and some scams associated with the product, so take your time and gather lots of information in writing before agreeing to anything.
And, since it really is National Poetry Month, use these tips and don’t doubt their legitimacy. They will help out your financial literacy.
Your reports to the FTC give us and other law enforcement agencies information that is critical both to analyzing the big picture and to identifying particular scammers. So if you or someone you know gets scammed, report it to the FTC by calling 877-382-4357 or visiting ftc.gov/complaint.
Jon Miller Steiger is the East Central region director of the Federal Trade Commission in Cleveland. The views expressed in this column are his and not the official positions of the FTC or any of its commissioners.