New Year, New Goals.  2017 marks the start of new financial goals, for both personal and business. I always set at least one financial resolution during New Year’s and use it to guide my money management throughout the year. In fact, setting yearly financial resolutions was pivotal for me over the years in saving for a new house, buying a car, paying off student load debt, and creating college savings accounts for by kids.

And while the idea of making a New Year’s resolution may sound hokey or cliché to most people, a recent survey from investing giant Fidelity shows that simply making a plan to improve your finances, or financial strategy, in the coming year, can be an important part of your overall financial health.  If you’re among the third of all people surveyed who aren’t planning to set a financial goal for the New Year, you might want to reconsider your resolutions. That same survey showed about half of resolution-setters achieved 80 percent or more of their financial goal in 2016.  In addition, people who set financial resolutions in 2016 were more likely to have paid down debt, improved their financial situation, and expected to do financially better in the coming year than in previous years.

As it was for 2016, the most common finance-related resolution for 2017 is paying down debt. Over thirty percent of people surveyed by Fidelity said becoming debt-free was their top financial priority in the New Year.

After paying down debt, the next-most popular financial resolution was building an emergency fund (18 percent), followed by saving for retirement (15 percent). These goals, along with paying down debt, are a winning combination for building financial security and growing your net worth.

The survey by Fidelity also found that people were interested in improving their credit in 2017 (12 percent), buying a home (12 percent), or setting a financial goal that wasn’t reflected in the options provided (12 percent).

Whatever you hope to achieve with your money in 2017, setting a resolution can be a powerful motivator to make it happen. But keeping your finances on track for the whole year is easier said than done. Here’s what you can do to get closer to achieving the biggest financial goals of the New Year.

Here are the Top Financial New Years Resolutions of 2017

1. Pay Off Debt

If you are coming into 2017 with your back to the wall in debt, paying it down can seem like an enormous undertaking.  Whether its student loan debt, revolving debt such as credit cards and store charge cards, or car payments, there are a number of strategic ways to be smart, and repay your debt.

For your credit cards, big box store cards and other revolving debt obligations, consider working with a firm to restructure your debt.  Combining all of your debts into one note can save a ton of cash on interest payments.  In addition, the single note, will most likely have a lower rate than the various credit card balances, helping you pay down debt faster, by paying more towards your principle.  If you have a nominal amount of credit card debt, consider doing a balance transfer to a card with a 0% introductory rate to save on interest payments for 6-12 months.

If you have student loans, refinancing can be an opportunity to lower your interest rate, monthly payments, or both. Take the time to explore debt repayment options and tools to find more effective ways to pay off your debts in 2017.

2. Build An Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is your first line of defense against financial hardship, and one of the most important financial key to success. Without it, you’re stuck living paycheck-to-paycheck and are overly-exposed to financial risk should an emergency arise.

To create a substantial emergency fund, you’ll need to start creating an excess of cash in your monthly budget. You can cut your spending, get a second source of income, or even commit to a combination of the two. If you come across “extra money” outside of your budgeted income, like a bonus or refund, stash it in your emergency fund as soon as possible.  Your goal should be to set aside 6 months of bills, including all car loans, mortgage/rent payments, medical bills, tuition/student loans, utilities, etc…  Once you have at least 6 months of bills set aside, you can start to breath a sigh of relief, for a while.  Our emergency fund has 18 months of cash reserves set aside in case one of us loses our job, gets sick and can’t work, etc…..

But sticking to these habits is easier said than done. That’s why setting regular reminders about your savings goal can boost your motivation, as well as your focus and self-discipline. Writing down your goal or using a visual and putting it somewhere you’ll see daily can also help keep you accountable.

For instance, if you have a goal to build a $5,000 emergency fund in the next year, write it on stickers and put them on your debit or credit cards. Every time you pull out a card, you’ll have a prompt to check your everyday spending against your bigger goals.

3. Save For Retirement

Retirement planning, especially if you are a millennial, is something that isn’t routinely though about.  However, its simple to do, and if you are still in your early to mid twenties, can have a huge impact on your future fund balance.  Take a look at this article by to look at the impact of saving just $2,000 year starting at age 25 vs starting at age 35 can make on a retirement balance.

If you are currently employed, and have an have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, saving for retirement is more straightforward and quite simple. Just make sure you’re enrolled in your company’s retirement plan. And, try and contribute enough to the account to get the full employer match possible since it’s essentially free money you can put toward retirement.

What’s more, retirement contributions are taken out of your paychecks before you ever see the money, so you won’t miss the cash. And since these savings are automatic, you don’t have to conjure up the willpower each month to follow-up on this goal. Your enrollment plan does it for you.

If you don’t have an employer-sponsored plan, don’t let that hold you back from saving for retirement. Make 2017 the year that you open your own retirement account like an IRA or Roth IRA and start contributing to it.

4. Improve Credit

Having good credit is an important sign of financial health and an added layer of security. On top of that, having good credit as you get older and start a family, purchase a house, etc… can have on impact on the quality of loans and their interest rates you are able to receive.

If you don’t have great or even good credit, there are several methods you can use to boost your credit score.  One of the easiest is to apply for a low limit credit card, say $500.  Use that card frequently, and ensure you pay it off each month.  This will help you build up a credit history, and how you can make frequent payments on your balance.

Checking your credit score regularly can also help you work towards improving your credit and keep you motivated as you see your efforts pay off. I use Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to check-up on my credit scores regularly, and look at my free annual credit reports. Both Credit Karma and Credit Sesame also give suggestions on what I can do next to keep building credit.

5. Buy A House

Plenty of people are looking to buy a home in 2017. If this is you, I would actually recommend circling back to No. 4. Checking and improving your credit will be your ticket to getting a mortgage and qualifying for low-interest rates.  Interest rates recently were increased by the FED, and are expected to rise even further later this year.

While you’re working on buying your house, you should also start planning for this major purchase. There are a ton of costs that come with both buying and owning a home that, if you’ve been renting, you might not anticipate. Reading up on the process will help you know what to expect, how to get the best deal and what costs you can expect as you buy a home.  Several of these costs, such as landscaping, renovations and the like can add up quite quickly if you don’t have a plan and budget.

Last but not least, take some time to get excited about the new year ahead. Setting a resolution should be an act of hope and empowerment. It’s a signal to yourself that you can do better and take charge of your finances. And when you follow through with your resolutions, you’ll build wealth and earn that financial freedom you’ve been striving for in 2017 and beyond.

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