CASH CONFIDENT: Take Charge of Your Finances in 2013

NFCC Poll Reveals Majority of Consumers Admit
Financial Problems are Self-Inflicted

Washington, DC - According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) December poll, when asked if their personal financial problems were self-inflicted or the result of events beyond their control, the overwhelming majority of respondents, 63 percent, admitted their problems were self-inflicted.  

"The poll results are encouraging, as the first step to correcting a problem is recognizing it," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.  "Taking ownership of financial problems empowers consumers, putting them in the driver's seat to affect change."

There is no better time than the start of a New Year to change behaviors and take control of your financial destiny. To help consumers get on the right track for 2013, the NFCC offers the following 12 action steps which can either be implemented one per month, or at a faster pace if desired.

Review your credit report - Much of a person's financial future depends on the contents of their credit report. Consumers are allowed one free report from each of the three major bureaus once every twelve months at .  Obtaining all three reports at once is a good idea if a major purchase is on the horizon.  If not, stagger the requests throughout the year to check for identity theft.  

Obtain your credit score - The three digits that comprise the credit score are a major dictator of whether or not the lender will extend credit, and at what interest rate.  It is likely that there will be a small charge associated with obtaining the score, but it will be money well-spent.  Know that there are multiple scores, so be sure to understand the range within which the score you purchase falls, as each score has its own scale.  Remember, a high score equals a low interest rate, saving significant money over time.

Reduce debt - Piling new debt on top of old is an undeniable red flag. Lock up the credit cards until they're paid in full, and meanwhile, reach out for help from a legitimate credit counseling agency sooner rather than later.  Delaying action only makes the problem worse.

Commit to save -Without a well-funded savings account, life is lived on a very slippery slope, one that becomes treacherous with the next unplanned expense.  Find extra money to dedicate to saving by putting all raises, bonuses, birthday checks, and any other windfall monies into savings.

Get financially organized - Create a personal financial center. It doesn't have to be a fancy home office; it could be an accordion folder.  The point is to have easy access to all financial documents.  To stay on top of things, commit to visiting the financial center at least once per week. Place originals such as a will or mortgage in a safe deposit box, and keep copies at home.

Avoid incurring late fees - Pay your bills the day you receive them. Delaying could result in a late fee, a dinged credit report and a lower credit score.  The risk of delay is simply too great.  Consider setting up online bill paying for all recurring bills.

Avoid paying overdraft fees - A receipt stuffed into the car visor isn't simply being unorganized; it can be a costly habit. Many an account has been overdrawn due to neglecting to notate an ATM withdrawal or debit purchase. Record each transaction into the check register on the spot, and double-check by viewing the account online weekly.

Track spending for 30 days - Have everyone in the household who spends money participate in this exercise.  Write down every cent that is spent, as it's the small, miscellaneous expenses that often wreck the best of plans. At the end of the month, come together to review where the money went, making adjustments where necessary.

Create a realistic spending plan - A budget is not intended to be restrictive. Instead, it should put the earner in charge of how he or she chooses to spend their hard-earned money.  Make it too strict, and no one will stay on board.  Make it too lenient and it won't accomplish anything.

Take advantage of free money
- Contribute the allowed maximum amount to the retirement plan at work, or at the very least, meet the employer matched amount. Not doing so is throwing away free money.  Also inquire about the availability of Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts.  All of the above can lower your taxable income.

Have an annual insurance check-up - No one wants to be over-insured.  Nor do they want to be under-insured resulting in an unpleasant surprise when making a claim. Make an appointment with an independent insurance agent and confirm that coverage is appropriate for each category.  Inquire about ways to lower premiums, and ask about any discounts for loyalty, good driving and the bundling of multiple polices.

Investigate refinancing the mortgage - Rates are still very low, meaning that refinancing can potentially save significant money over the life of the loan. Use online calculators to help compare the options.  Do not be tempted to extend the term of the loan, however, in order to get a lower monthly payment unless absolutely necessary to stay afloat.  

"The poll results also support the need for increased financial education, as an educated consumer is less likely to stumble financially," continued Cunningham.  

For help executing your financial goals, reach out to a trained and certified counselor.  To find the NFCC Member Agency closest to you, dial toll-free to (800) 388-2227, or go online to .  For assistance in Spanish, call (800) 682-9832.  
The actual December poll question and answer choices are as follows:

The majority of my financial problems have been
A. Self-inflicted (ex: overspending, financially unorganized, etc.) = 63%
B. Caused by events beyond my control (ex: job loss, medical, etc.) = 37%