Jul. 21--ON JAN. 1, many people made traditional New Year's resolutions to quit smoking, lose weight or get their finances in order and save more money.
     Now that 2008 has cleared the halfway mark, Consumer Credit Counseling Services/Money Management International suggests that individuals, couples and families review financial goals to see whether or not they are making progress.
     The organization offers workshops, counseling and other financial literacy services to help people attain financial stability.
     Diane Mull, education director for CCCS/MMI, based in Milford, said that if anyone has faltered and reverted to bad habits, there is still plenty of time to get back on track by the end of the year.
     Here are some basics that Mull said provide "bragging rights" on keeping New Year's resolutions:
     --Pay off those 2007 holiday purchases. If credit card balances have not been paid down and a card holder is still charging, that person's debt is growing faster than the national debt, Mull said, considering the fact that the government borrows at substantially lower rates.
     Why bother? With credit, there is a promise to repay debt with income that is yet to be earned. By paying down debt, money is freed up in the future to invest, save or earn interest instead of paying interest. It also lowers consumers' credit utilization ratios, thereby improving their credit scores.
     --Set up a financial center at home. This "area" could be as simple as a shoebox or as elaborate as a full-blown home office. The point is to set aside space where all financial records can be easily accessed.
     "You probably shouldn't put them in an obvious spot," said Sheryle McMillan, an education specialist with CCCS/MMI, in order to prevent theft or snooping. "If you're going to put them in an obvious spot, it might be best to have it locked."
     Why bother? Late fees can be in the $40 range, so paying a bill late is tantamount to throwing money out the window, not to mention the negative ding to a credit report.
     --Review credit reports several times a year. Each of the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, TransUnion and Equifax -- provides consumers with one credit report free of charge every 12 months. McMillan said the one-year time frame starts with a person's first request, and is not restricted to the standard calendar year. They can be ordered at www.annualcreditreport.com.
     "We can't emphasize this enough: Any Web site that asks you how you're going to pay is not the right Web site," she said.
     Why bother? Reviewing credit reports is a sure-fire way to spot identity theft and fraud. If inaccuracies are revealed, they need to be dealt with swiftly.
     --Establish an emergency savings account. Financial experts agree that it is prudent to have three and six months' worth of income socked away in a liquid, interest-bearing account.
     Why bother? Without adequate savings, financial distress is one flat tire or one trip to the emergency room away. McMillan said 10 percent is optimal but people should not forego saving altogether if they can only set aside a smaller amount.
     --Contribute the maximum possible into retirement plans. Starting small is better than not starting at all, particularly when an employer with match workers' contributions.
     Why bother? Time is money's best friend. The sooner the saving starts, the larger that nest egg will grow.

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