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Practical Advice For Everyone
On How to Save and Manage Money

No matter how old or young you are, there are some basic things you can do to better manage and protect your money. Here are some of our recommendations.

Comparison shop for financial services. Just as you would do for any major purchase, look at what is being offered by your bank and a few competitors, then try to find the best deal to meet your needs. For instance, with a mortgage, credit card or other loan, you may be able to negotiate the interest rate and other terms. This can save hundreds or thousands of dollars over several years.

Start by comparing the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on a loan or credit card. The APR is the cost of credit expressed as a yearly rate, including interest and certain fees. "Many people looking for a loan only focus on the dollars they'd pay each month instead of the APR and, because of that, they don't realize how much the loan will cost and they could pay too much," said Rae-Ann Miller, special advisor on consumer issues in the FDIC's research division. For example, she said, payday loans (unsecured loans that borrowers promise to repay out of their next paycheck or regular income payment) and car-title loans (secured by the borrower's car) "may be quick and easy sources of cash, but they also have an APR as high as 300 to 400 percent."

Also, for a mortgage, consider a fixed-rate loan even if adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) carry a lower initial interest rate or lower monthly payments at the start. "If you are thinking about an ARM, before you commit to one, make sure you know how much the monthly payments could go up and be comfortable with those higher payments," cautioned Janet Kincaid, Chief of the FDIC's Consumer Response Center. "Don't let a low teaser rate lure you in; you may be surprised later."

When you consider opening checking and savings accounts, compare the Annual Percentage Yield (APY) offered by several financial institutions. The APY expresses the annual interest rate you will earn on a deposit account, depending on the frequency of compounding. However, keep in mind that fees — such as those for ATM withdrawals, account maintenance and checks returned because of insufficient funds — aren't factored into the APY. Fees can make a big difference in how much you actually earn from money you have on deposit.

Get a free copy of your credit reports. These reports are prepared by companies called credit bureaus. They summarize your history of paying loans, credit cards and other bills. If you apply for a loan, insurance or a job, or you want to rent an apartment, chances are your credit report will be reviewed.

One reason you should be monitoring your credit reports is to correct errors or omissions that can leave bad marks on your credit history. Inaccuracies in your credit report can needlessly reduce your "credit score" and, in turn, may cost you hundreds of dollars each year due to higher interest rates on a loan or credit card. Another reason to review your credit reports is to protect against identity theft

Under federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the nation's three major credit bureaus.

Try to save more and spend less. First, if you don't already have a monthly budget, consider preparing one to get a better handle on your income and expenses for necessities, such as housing, utilities, food and transportation. You can also decide what is appropriate for non-essential expenses, such as entertainment, eating out and the latest electronics. "This is how a budget can help you commit to saving a little money every month and splurging a little less," said Kincaid.

She also said that "a budget doesn't have to be complicated or scary," and that while there are budgets you can easily create on a computer, "a notebook and a pencil can be enough to get you started."

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