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Many of us are well into our new year's resolutions to eat better, exercise more or lose weight, or maybe you've already fallen off the wagon. Either way, there is a lot of 2018 left and there is never a bad time to review your finances and make some "financial resolutions" for the new year.

A recent Gallup poll found only 30 percent of Americans have a long-term financial plan. The starting point for making financial resolutions is to create an annual financial checklist. This checklist will either save you money or help protect your overall financial security. Keeping track of the progress makes it easier to see which tasks have been completed and which ones you still need to tackle. Consider the following list of items to add to your checklist in order to help improve your financial future.

Identity theft protection

If you have a credit or debit card, it's critical that you sign up for identity theft protection. Every year, approximately 15 million Americans are victims of some kind of identity theft. Many financial institutions offer account monitoring, alerts or freezes in the event of questionable activity regarding your account

If your identity is stolen, contact your bank immediately to help stop any further damage. If not, thieves can drain your financial accounts, damage your credit history, and it can be a long and expensive process to reverse the damage.

Check your credit interest rates

Interest rates frequently change, so know what your current rate is with every credit card. There may be a better interest rate that you aren't aware that is out there. If you do a little research, you can transfer your credit balance to a different institution that offers a lower rate. In addition, review the rewards program your credit card offers because there might be a better deal for that as well.

Improve your credit score

Set a goal this year to improve your credit score. A good credit score can save you money long-term on large purchases because you can potentially get a better interest rate.

"Paying your bills on time is the best way to improve your score," said Don Gooch, Community Bank president of Arvest Bank in Hot Springs, in the press release. "Improving your credit score takes time, but a good score improves your chances of getting loans at a lower interest rate."

In addition, Gooch said to keep a credit balance of no more than 30 percent of your credit limit. The smaller the percentage, the better. Another tip to remember is to not apply for credit frequently because this will actually hurt your score.

Review your retirement contributions

From the moment you receive your very first paycheck, you should be saving for retirement, regardless of your age. As your salary increases, so should your savings. Also, be sure to research any matching contributions you are able to get from your employer.

"Review your retirement contributions in your company's 401K and put back the maximum amount you can," added Gooch. The long-term goal is to save about eight times your salary by the time you retire."

Review savings contributions

Having a savings account can be one of the best decisions you make this year. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck into a savings account and make a commitment not to borrow from it.

Create emergency fund

An emergency fund helps offset the impact of a financial hurdle so you can still maintain your lifestyle. This is separate from a saving account.

An example of when to use your emergency fund would be in the event you lose your job or you face major medical expenses or a major home expense, such as a broken air conditioner. It's recommended that you put back at least seven months' salary in the emergency fund.

Regardless of the financial goals you put in place for the year, having an annual financial checklist can help strengthen your long-term financial stability.

Arvest Bank, named by Forbes magazine as one of "America's Best Large Employers" for 2017, operates more than 250 bank branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas through a group of 15 locally managed banks, each with its own board and management team. These banks serve customers in more than 120 communities, with extended weekday banking hours at many locations.

Arvest provides a wide range of banking services, including loans, deposits, treasury management, credit cards, mortgage loans and mortgage servicing. Arvest is an Equal Housing Lender and Member FDIC.

Business on 03/12/2018

Print Headline: Annual checklist can help your financial future

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