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To-Do List for 2008: Tackle Your Finances

Don't waste your time making New Year's resolutions. Instead, make a list -- and actually do the things on that list. These tasks are not so difficult to accomplish, if you tackle them one by one. In fact, you'll get a great sense of accomplishment. Here's a great "to-do" list for the New Year. You might be able to check off a few without even trying!

Detail your debts. Make a list of what you owe and the interest rate and minimum payment. Remember, if you double the minimum monthly payment, keep paying the same amount each month and never charge another penny, you'll pay off your credit card in less than three years -- no matter how large your current balance.

Check your mortgage. Plan to pay extra every month so you can pay the loan off early and save a fortune in interest. If your rate is floating, or if you have a home equity loan, consolidate now to a fixed-rate loan, if possible. Help is available at 800-CALL-FHA, if you're not behind on your payments. Contact your loan servicing company immediately if you're in danger of missing a payment.

Get credit counseling. If necessary, contact Consumer Counseling Credit Services. One call to 800-388-2227 will put you in touch with the nearest local affiliated agency. You can talk over the phone to get unbiased, safe advice.

Secure your identity. I recommend identitysweep.com, a group I've been working with closely to encourage people to be proactive about security -- not waiting until a breach occurs.

Evaluate your investments. You can go to my Web site and can click on the blue box for a free, one-year trial of FinancialEngines.com. This service lets you input your goals and current investments, to get a secure, personalized investment analysis. (Normally, the service is only available to employees of companies that purchase it for retirement plan participants.)

Get on-track for retirement. Go to the Web site of the Employee Benefit Research Institute and click on "ballpark estimator" to get an unbiased look at how much more you need to save to reach your retirement goals.

Update your insurance. Do you have enough life insurance? Do you think it's too expensive? Go to the Web sites of some online insurance brokers, like www.Accuquote.com or www.TermQuote.com, where you can check term-life prices, which have fallen dramatically over the past few years.

Update your estate plan. Review your documents, keeping in mind that the estate tax law is scheduled to change dramatically in the next few years. Remember, state laws apply -- so if you've moved recently, be sure to find an attorney in your state of residence by contacting the state bar association.

Double check your beneficiaries. Make sure you have named the correct beneficiaries for your life insurance, individual retirement accounts, 401(k) and 403(b) plans. When you're gone there's nothing you can do if your ex-spouse is still the beneficiary instead of your children!

Buy long-term care insurance for yourself or your parents. The time to start is at age 50, but it is still affordable -- and worthwhile -- into your seventies.

Finally, look forward to the New Year with hope and happiness in your heart. Maybe this is the year we will find Peace on Earth. Count your blessings, for they are many -- and not calculated on a financial ledger. Resolve to do something different in the New Year to make the world a better place. Tell someone you love them, call someone who is alone and smile at a stranger.

My very best wishes to all of you for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. And God Bless America, for America is us! That's the Savage Truth.

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Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated, and she released her fourth book, The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need? in June 2005. Savage was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp. She also has served on the boards of McDonald's and Pennzoil.

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