There's no day like payday ... to start overhauling your financial life! Said very few people. Ever. But a paycheck is actually a great reminder of all the little money things you should do — or stay on top of — in order to maintain solid financial health.
Here are nine ways to maximize your next payday.
1. Scrutinize your tax withholding
Big changes to the tax code went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018 — and, per a recent report from the U.S. Treasury, there's a chance your employer isn't taking enough money (known as "withholding" in tax jargon) out of your checks to pay Uncle Sam. If that's the case, you could face a big tax bill at the end of the year.
Fortunately, there's still time to avoid owing way more than you can pay in April. The Internal Revenue Service has a calculator that tells you how much you should withhold from each check, based on the current tax code and information on your paycheck. Head over to its website to see if you need to fill out a new W-4, the form instructing your employer how to much to withhold each pay period. Here are a few other ways to avoid an year-end tax crisis.
2. Tackle high-interest debt
High interest credit card debt, in particular, does big damage to your financial health, so if you're carrying tons of it, put as much money as you can toward your balance with the highest annual percentate rate ASAP. Be sure to make the minimums on all your other accounts, though. Once you've paid that balance, move to the one with the next highest APR. If you're really floundering, check out our full explainer on getting out of credit card debt faster.
3. Pay yourself first(ish)
That's code for saving a chunk of the check that just hit your bank account before arranging, say, a big night out. As a general goal, aim to save at least 20% of your paycheck. Keep yourself on task by sending some money straight into savings via auto-deposit.
4. Redraft your budget
If you're having trouble with tasks two and three, review your budget. You can often "find" some extra dollars by auditing your financial statements for clear money-wasters, like old subscriptions you're no longer using, or big spending hikes that'll indicate where you can pare back (All. Those. Rideshares.). Also, consider renegotiating a long-term service contract. Certain providers, like cable, cell phone and utility companies and auto insurers, change prices all the time and you may be paying more now than you were as a new customer. See if you can score a better price by asking for one ... or shopping around.
Once you've made adjustments, redraft your budget. We've got a simple spreadsheet that can help.
5. Up your 401(k) contributions
Payday is a great reminder to save more for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k), aim to max it out. In 2018, the IRS allows you put up to $18,500 (or $24,500 if you’re 50 years or older) into that account. If that's a stretch, aim to at least meet your employer's match. And if that's a stretch, try increasing your contributions by 1%. It'll make a difference, thanks to compound interest.
6. Protect your income
As we've said before, you can't bank money if you don't make money. Disability insurance is designed to protect payday specifically. It covers your income in the event you become too ill or injured to work. Consider applying for a policy, even if you get some disability insurance through work. Those long-term policies are generally pretty slim. We can help you compare and buy disability insurance to get adequate protection.
7. Update your beneficiaries
If you have some life insurance, disability insurance, a 401(k) and other benefits through work, check who will get any money associated with those accounts, should something unfortunate happen. Many people set and forget their employer-sponsored benefits, but your financial situation or lifestyle may have changed since you started your job. Make sure your accounts reflect any of these changes. For instance, if you got married, you might want to make your spouse your beneficiary in lieu of a sibling.
8. Set up an separate emergency savings account
Everyone should aim to have three-to-six months of expenses socked away for a rainy day. One secret for actually getting there? Open an online savings account. These accounts generally tout higher annual percentage yields (APYs) and are more difficult to draw from — meaning you'll be less inclined to tap that money for non-emergencies.
9. Check your credit
Your credit plays a big role in every aspect of your life — from getting a mortgage to renting an apartment or securing lower insurance premiums. You want to know where you stand and check for signs of fraud throughout the year. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com and checking your credit scores for free more frequently via certain credit card issuers or credit education sites.
Don't like what you see? There are ways to improve your credit in 30 days or less.