While April is National Financial Literacy Month, any time of the year is a good time to discuss what, for many of us, is a truly frightening subject: our finances. That’s because Americans, as a whole, are not always good at managing money. In fact, a 2017 GO Banking Rates survey found that 57% of respondents had less than $1000 in a savings account, and 39% had nothing saved.1

So what can we do to exorcize our financial demons and start planning a more secure future? There are a number of proven, practical steps that almost anyone can take to get their finances in order:


Since you never know when a medical or financial emergency will strike, it’s important to save six to eight months of living expenses and keep it someplace safe and accessible. If you’re having trouble getting started, you can automate the process by having your bank transfer money on a regular basis from your checking account to your savings account. In most cases, there's no cost for this service, and you can start with as little as $25 a month.


If you think about it, you stand to earn a lot of money over the course of your working life. Since your income potential is probably your greatest asset, be sure to protect it with life, health, and, possibly, disability insurance. That way, if something unfortunate happens during your prime earning years, you—or your loved ones—will be financially protected.


If your employer offers a 401(k) match, be sure to contribute at least enough to qualify for the full match. Typically, companies will match anywhere from 1%-6% of employee contributions—which is money for the taking. Best of all, any money you contribute will be deducted pretax from your paycheck, so there’s a good chance you will feel a lighter hit on your paycheck than you expect. You may also be able to build in automatic increases, so the percentage you contribute goes up every time you get a raise.


Contrary to popular belief, there’s really no such thing as good debt. There’s only bad debt, and not-quite-so-bad debt. That's why it’s important to look at any debt you have—such as credit cards, car loans, mortgages, and student loans—and eliminate those with the least favorable terms. Credit cards are often a good place to start, since the interest rates they charge can range anywhere from 10%-24%. Plus, unlike the interest on home mortgages, the interest on credit cards is not tax deductible.


Better management of your financial strategies is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your financial health—as is taking advantage of tax-deferred growth. Fortunately, there are a host of tools out there that you can use to manage your tax burden and help you prepare for upcoming milestone events. For example, if you want to save for retirement, you can look into IRAs (traditional or Roth), 401(k)s, and tax-deferred annuities. For those interested in helping a loved one pay for college, 529 college savings plans can be an excellent option, or you may want to consider a whole life insurance policy since the cash value accumulates tax deferred and can be used, 100% tax free if loans and partial withdrawals2,3 are structured properly, during your lifetime.

If, after all this, you still think creating a financial strategy is scary—or if you would like more information about any of the topics covered—a New York Life agent will be happy to help. Just click here to find an agent near you.

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1 Cameron Huddleston “More Than Half of Americans Have Less Than $1,000 in Savings in 2017,” GoBankingRates, September 12, 2017.

2  The primary purpose of a life insurance policy is to provide a death benefit. Policy loans against the cash value accrue interest at the current rate and, if not paid in full, will decrease the cash value and death benefit by the amount of the outstanding loan and interest.

3 Neither New York Life Insurance Company nor its agents provide legal or tax advice. Please consult your legal or tax advisor to find out the possible personal implications of the ideas presented in this article.