Most people save what’s “leftover.” Start new habits now with a review of how you’re spending, saving and managing your credit. For you, that may mean a renewed focus on building up your savings and managing your credit more proactively. But where do you start? Here are a few ideas you can use to get going.

These four steps can help you boost your savings.

Saving money doesn’t have to be complicated. Just take it one step at a time.

1. Identify a specific, monthly savings goal.

A savings plan can seem pretty abstract if you don’t have a tangible goal in mind – whether it’s saving for college, vacation, a home or a car. So get specific and get motivated to save. Identify what you want to achieve, the total savings you’ll need and when you’ll need it (your savings due date). Then just divide the total savings required by months remaining until your savings due date to find your monthly savings goal.

SAVINGS TIP: If you don’t have an emergency fund to cover six months of living expenses in case of illness or job loss, consider making that your top savings goal.

2. Create a monthly budget.

A budget is the essential tool for reaching your savings goal. And it’s easier to create than you might think. Your M&T Relationship Banker can guide you through budgeting worksheets that can help you outline your:

  • Monthly income
  • Fixed, recurring expenses such as insurance, car and mortgage payments (don’t forget to include your monthly savings goal as a fixed expense)
  • Estimated variable expenses such as food or entertainment
  • Monthly net difference between income and expense

If your income exceeds your expenses, congratulations! You can increase your monthly savings amount to reach your goal more quickly or contribute more to a retirement account. If your expenses exceed your net income, you’ll want to spend some time on step 3.

3. Review your expenses.

Even fixed expenses like insurance and mortgage payments can be “shaved” to help you save. To reduce your monthly expenses, you could, for example:

  • Shop around for better car, life and home insurance rates
  • Consolidate high-interest credit card debts into a single, lower-interest loan
  • Refinance your mortgage at a lower interest rate

4. Automate your savings.

One of the best ways to keep your savings resolution is to “pay yourself first” with an automatic transfer from your checking account to savings. You simply specify the amount you want to transfer and the frequency – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. With M&T’s Easy Save, there’s no minimum transfer amount, so you can start small and grow your savings over time.

Take charge of your credit.

Your credit record has a major impact on your financial life – from whether you’re approved for a loan to the interest rate you’ll pay. It can even affect whether you get a job. So take these immediate steps and take charge of your credit in the year ahead.

Review your credit report annually.

Your credit report reflects your payment history, credit balances and limits as well as any liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures or delinquent accounts. Negative information can follow you for 7-10 years, so you’ll want to be sure your report is accurate. You can dispute incorrect information or add a statement to your report explaining the reasons for any negative information, such as job loss or illness.

You can get one free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax®, TransUnion® and Experian®.

Understand your credit score.

Based on your credit and payment history, credit bureaus generate a score that indicates how likely you are to repay your debts on time. FICO® scores, most commonly used by lenders, range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more credit-worthy you are to prospective lenders.

While credit bureaus don’t disclose the exact formula they use, here’s how FICO® weighs the five key factors that go into your score:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Debts owed versus credit limits: 30%
  • Length of your credit history: 15%
  • Credit inquiries and new credit accounts opened: 10%
  • Credit mix: 10%

Develop a strategy to pay off debt.

With these factors in mind, here are some of the smartest ways to pay down debt and help improve your credit over time:

  • Pay your mortgage bi-weekly rather than monthly to reduce interest costs and loan term
  • Focus on paying higher interest debt first
  • Pay all bills on-time by setting up automatic payments and/or payment alerts
  • Maintain low credit card balances or pay in full each month
  • Avoid opening credit accounts you don’t truly need
  • Monitor credit card statements carefully to detect fraud or identity theft

Get step-by-step guidance from your M&T Relationship Banker.

Whether you need help developing a budget, consolidating your debt, or just deciphering your credit report, your M&T Relationship Banker is ready to help. Schedule an appointment to get started today.

This content is for informational purposes only. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.