NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As 2013 slips into history, it's time for Americans to consider some concrete plans (and changes) in their financial lives.
The popular term for that is "New Year's resolutions," but perhaps a better description is to have a "New Year's revolution," as many of the changes needed by financially strapped Americans are sizable and significant.
TransUnion, the credit reporting firm, says almost 40% of Americans say they will make at least one big financial change in their life next year, with 32% saying they will save more money; 28% vowing to pay down debt; and 27% saying they will eliminate unnecessary expenses.
That's one benefit of a new year: It's a great time to shake things up, flip the calendar as well as your personal financial script and vow to fix some of those toxic money habits.
"The new year is the perfect time for consumers to appraise their current financial situation and make goals for where they want to be at the end of 2014," says Julie Springer, vice president at TransUnion.
So where do you start? TransUnion offers these launching points for 2014:
Check your credit. Start by knowing where you stand with your credit health. That's where you'll find evidence of what TransUnion calls "bad financial habits" such as late, missed and minimum payments on credit cards. Regular checkups may also help you guard against identity theft.
Address credit rating deficiencies. Once you know your credit score, take the steps needed to drive that score upward: Pay down debt, hike those minimum card payments and keep a lid on spending.
Don't overspend. It seems like a simple concept, but stop spending too much money on services and stuff you don't really need. TransUnion advises creating a monthly spending plan and setting limits on your disposable income. BankingMyWay has a useful budget savings calculator to get you started.
Dispute false credit data. TransUnion says wrong information on a credit report can be a harbinger of potentially significant financial problems. Check that by disputing items on your credit report you don't recognize right away and having those items removed to protect your credit health.
Watch out for identity theft. The news last week that millions of Target shoppers were victims of a security breach should resonate with every consumer. Keep ID thieves at bay by using a reputable credit monitoring service and tracking your credit card and bank statements to make sure you're not exposed to a data breach.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to get financially fit. But the five tips above can certainly get you on the right path to financial independence, and Jan. 1 is a great date on the calendar to take your first step on that path.