Complete These 4 Tasks Now, Save Time and Money Later
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"Automation brings discipline to the investment process. That’s crucial to long-term success and takes guesswork and market-timing out of the equation."

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In some areas of life, flying by the seat of your pants is fun—like calling up a friend on Friday morning to plan a weekend road trip or an impromptu reunion of your college roommates. But when it comes to finances, waiting till the last minute is an almost guaranteed way not to hit your goals.

That doesn’t mean you have to invest a huge amount of time, though. Set aside a half-hour to tackle these four money tasks and they’ll help you stay on track for years to come.

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1. Automate everything.

Setting up automatic bill pay, as well as auto-transfers to your savings and investment accounts, lightens your to-do list later and helps ensure you’ll hit your goals.

That’s especially important with investing. “Automation brings discipline to the investment process,” says Jane DeLashmutt O'Mara, a Certified Financial Planner and portfolio manager at FBB Capital Partners. “That’s crucial to long-term success and takes guesswork and market-timing out of the equation.”

If you’ve set up recurring contributions to a retirement and/or regular investment account, you can feel confident that you’re steadily building wealth and enjoying the benefits of dollar-cost averaging. By regularly investing a set amount, you’re buying more shares when stock prices are low and fewer when they’re high, which can help maximize your gains.

2. Check in on your credit.

More than 15 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2016. While it may not be possible to avoid this fate, you can minimize the damage—and all the hassles involved—by staying on top of your credit.

Get a free copy of your credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Tools like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame also offer free monitoring services that automatically alert you to changes on your report.

So much is dependent on your credit score, from whether you’ll qualify for low rates on loans to your ability to pass a credit check for a new job. “You want to catch something early on, rather than find yourself with a bad credit rating,” says Certified Financial Planner Ken Moraif, senior advisor at Money Matters in Dallas. (But if you do, here’s how to fix your FICO score quickly.)

3. Analyze your investment fees.

No one wants to throw away big chunks of their investment returns on fees—but it’s easy to do. Say you have a $100,000 portfolio that grows 4 percent annually over 20 years. According to an SEC analysis, paying just 1 percent in annual expenses could cost you a whopping $40,000 over 20 years. And that’s with a modest rate of return.

So take some time to uncover how much you’re forking over in fees and make any necessary adjustments. (You can easily find ETFs with expense ratios under .1 percent.) Tools like FeeX can help simplify this task: They’ll analyze your investments are rank your fees, so you’ll know which ones are worthy of reassessing.

4. Pick a partner.

Link up with a trusted financial advisor, friend or family member who understands your goals, as well as your financial weaknesses, and is willing to hold you accountable. This is who you can call when you’re tempted to buy something that’s not in your budget or put your 401(k) contributions on hold for a while.

“If you choose someone now that you can rely on to help you reach your financial goals, you won’t have to put forth much effort later when you’re in the moment and need to be held accountable,” Moraif says.

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