Know Your Financial Numbers

With a new year now in full swing, you might still be trying to find your financial footing for 2023, or you haven’t fulfilled that New Year’s resolution to get your financial plan on track. Good news! You can get going on that resolution by “knowing your numbers.” Here are four stats that you can look up for yourself or with a little help that can make a big difference.

1. Know your monthly expenses. In this time of inflation, your personal finances should be rooted in the firm foundation of a basic household budget. If you are working from a budget now, excellent job! If not, setting up a budget— either on paper or in a spreadsheet or using an app—is vital to handling personal finances successfully.

Justin Houle, Director of Finance at Catholic United Financial Credit Union, encourages everyone to know their monthly expenses. The key to this, Houle says, is to distinguish between fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs are bills like your mortgage or rent, utilities, loan payments and so on that usually stay the same. Variable costs are the bills that fluctuate seasonally or with use, such as electricity, gas, cell phone use, etc. While the fixed costs are easy to calculate, the variable costs are more of a challenge.

If you have an established budget or are creating one for the new year, here’s a tip to help you plan in both situations. Now that 2022 is over, you should have a record of bills, either on paper or electronic bank records, from the last 12 months of expenses. To help define your variable costs, look back on bills from the previous year and determine what months you incurred higher or lower bills. Factor those fluctuating amounts into your monthly budget to help you predict how much income you’ll need to cover expenses for current or future months, and how much is left over to save or spend. This is vital to your finances considering that many utility costs have increased in the last 18 months due to inflation.

And here’s one more tip Houle gives regarding your fixed costs: “Make sure you know what is being taken out of your account.” As you review your monthly costs, also look over the list of payees on your account and credit card statements. Are you paying for subscriptions to streaming services or phone apps you no longer use or forgot about? Cancel any subscriptions eating up monthly income that could be used elsewhere, or better yet, saved.

2. Check your tax withholding number. Could you use more money? This number could put more of your income back into your paycheck. A tax withholding is the amount of income your employer pays to the IRS in your name as income tax. Your withholding is determined by a form you submit through your employer indicating if you want allowances to reduce the amount of your income withheld for tax. Lower numbers mean more is withheld from your paycheck while higher allowance numbers withhold less income for taxes. Checking your current withholding is a good idea if:

  • You have a major change to your life, such as a change in marital status, a birth, adoption or death in the family, or other relationship switch that affects you legally or financially;

  • A major purchase, such as a home or property;

  • A significant change to your personal finances such as a wage increase, retirement, filing bankruptcy, employment change, etc.;

  • If you plan to itemize deductions on your tax forms versus taking the standard deduction.

Talking to a tax professional is a good idea before you change your withholding, as there are many considerations to factor into this decision. If you find yourself paying a lot of taxes every year, or if you work more than one job, you might consider having more income withheld to avoid a surprise tax bill every spring. However, if you receive a large tax refund every year, you might be letting the government keep more of your money than they should for the first four months of the year.

Your employer will have your current tax withholding number on file if you need to learn what it is. To get an estimate on what your tax withholding should be, visit IRS.gov and search for “tax withholding calculator”; this is a free estimating tool provided by the IRS. You will need a recent paystub from your employer to assist you in filling out the calculator. No personal information is needed to complete this estimate. As always, talk to a tax advisor for advice to help you make the best decision.

3. Know your contribution limits. If you are paying into a retirement plan like a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Amount (IRA), the government places a limit on how much you can contribute annually. These limits can change year to year, based on economic performance, cost-of-living increases and other factors that affect pension and retirement plans. The good news is the government has increased the limit on what you can save for retirement in 2023.

You can put an additional $2,000 in your 401(k) and 403(b) plans in 2023, thanks to an increased limit of $22,500. Individuals who are age 50 and over have a “catch-up” contribution limit of an additional $6,500.

For Roth IRA owners, the IRS has increased the 2023 contribution limit another $500 to $6,500 for individuals and $7,500 for those age 50 and over. If you want to reach this limit by making a monthly payment to your IRA, your payment would be $541 per month. Or, you could make a single payment of the above amounts to your IRA and stay within the limit. And, don’t forget that you can continue to make tax-advantaged contributions to your IRA for 2022 up to April 15, 2023.

There are income limitations to some IRA contributions based on marital status and some people at specific income levels could make more contributions. Talk to your tax advisor to make the most of these contribution levels for 2023. If you own a Catholic United IRA (individual retirement annuity) contact your local Catholic United Advisor to review how you could take advantage of these 2023 limits.

4. Know your credit score. Knowing your current credit score helps you in two ways. First, it helps you know how financial institutions define their relationship with you based on your credit worthiness. Second, it helps you keep your identity secure. Credit scores are summarized and used by credit agencies to scrutinize an individual person’s financial behavior and determine their “creditworthiness.” The best score is 850, with average scores in the range of 650 to 750. The higher your score, the more likely a lender will consider you a good risk in a financial relationship. If you have a low credit score, banks are more likely to charge you higher interest rates on loans and credit cards, or they may deny you those financial tools outright.

People with high scores have a good history of paying bills on time, paying off credit card balances every month, keep old accounts that are in good standing, and they tend to only open new accounts as needed. If you want to build up your credit score in advance of taking out a loan or mortgage, practice these good financial habits and get current on any late bills.

Second, knowing your credit score helps you keep your personal finances and identity more secure. If you find your credit score is lower than you expect, perhaps much lower, this is a warning sign that you might be a victim of identity theft. You can request a credit history from one of the three credit rating companies (provided for free once a year), which are TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. The Federal Trade Commission recommends getting your record by calling 1-877-322-8228 or visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Review the history in the record to make sure there isn’t any fraudulent activity. If you see an item on your credit card that is in error or potential fraud, you can dispute the item with the credit rating companies. Visit www.consumerfinance.gov for more details.

With these four stats in hand, you can move confidently to the next step of your personal finance journey in 2023! Your local Catholic United Representative is always available to provide you with professional insurance and retirement advice.