My family has been poor — or on the verge of poverty — for almost all of my life. Over the years, I’ve discovered and used various methods to help get our family back on the path to financial success, and I wanted to share them with you. These are five steps you can take to improve your financial health if you’re poor:
- Start a Checking Account
- Learn Your Credit Score
- Get a Credit Card
- Create a Budget
- Prioritize Savings
1. Start a Checking Account
This may not sound like a big deal to many people, but in 2015, about 9 million American households didn’t have a bank account, according to an FDIC survey. That accounts for more than 15 million adults and nearly 8 million kids. The vast majority of those people live in poverty.
People who don’t have bank accounts rely on things like prepaid debit cards and check-cashing services. These come with high fees and hidden charges that can hugely inconvenience someone who already doesn’t have much money in the first place. So getting a bank account is a major step towards financial independence.
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2. Learn Your Credit Score
Statistics show that there’s a correlation between income and credit score, with Mississippi having both the lowest average household income and the lowest average credit score in the U.S. As long as you have access to a computer or smartphone with internet capabilities, it’s easy to learn your credit score using free services like Credit Karma. Knowing your credit score is the first step to being able to either improve it if it’s poor or maintain it if it’s good. Knowledge is power, as they say, and that absolutely applies here.
3. Get a Credit Card
Once you’ve figured out your credit score, you can take another big step towards financial health and get a credit card. This can be dangerous if you don't use it wisely; but with the right knowledge, a credit card can be a powerful tool. If your credit score is good enough, you might be able to step right into a higher-tier card like the Discover It or Citi Simplicity credit card. But if you have a lower score, chances are that you’ll have to start somewhere else.
When it comes to building credit from scratch, you may have to face annual fees and high interest rates, but you still have a few options. For example, Fingerhut is a website that offers credit to almost anyone that applies. Although there are some stipulations and the items on the site are marked up from general retail, it’s an easy way to get a jumpstart on the process of rebuilding your credit.
Another option would be to get a secured credit card. This is a credit card that you put down a deposit on, which in turn establishes your credit limit and provides a safety net for the credit card company. For example, if you want to apply for the Discover It Secured Card and you want a $300 credit limit, you put down a $300 deposit. It’s a way of reducing risk for the company, but it also still counts towards your credit history and credit score.
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4. Create a Budget
Budgeting, or learning how to manage your finances, is an important part of gaining your financial independence.
Creating a quick budget, including your income and your estimated expenses, is an easy way to gain control of your finances.
It will help you understand exactly how much money you have each month. Only 32 percent of Americans maintain a budget, according to a 2013 Gallup Poll. So even if your income is low, actively budgeting is already a step above what many people are doing.
5. Prioritize Savings
Let’s say that you’ve already created a budget. Perhaps you realize that, according to your calculations, you should have a little bit of money left over at the end of the month.
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The easiest way to get ahead — and to keep yourself from spending that money — is to set it aside right after you pay your bills and before you spend anything on entertainment. Put it in a savings account, a safe, or — if you feel so inclined — invest it. But the key to this being successful though is that you do it before you start spending the money on things that you don’t need. This will keep you accountable and make sure that you always have something set aside in case of an emergency.
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