State Fire Marshal Gallagher with firefighters
Volume 3 Number 1
January 2, 2006

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Lower the cost of your outstanding liabilities.
Review interest rates on all of your credit cards and loans.  Do research to see if you are paying a higher rate than the current average.  If you are, contact your creditors and negotiate a new rate.  If they wonít budge, consider moving your accounts.  This same rule applies to outstanding mortgage loans.  However, you must also consider fees connected with refinancing and calculate how long it will take to recoup the closing costs.  If you donít know how to do the cost-benefit calculations, ask a loan officer to do the calculations for you. 

Make additional monthly payments. 
If you decide to keep your current credit card debts or mortgage loan, consider making affordable pre-payments.  Using a mortgage loan as an example, sending in $25 extra a month can save you thousands of dollars in interest and shave years off of the term of your loan.  Hypothetically, if you had a $100,000 loan at 8 percent and paid an additional  $25 per month, you would save more than $23,000 in interest and knock off over three years of mortgage payments.  Send in $50 per month and you save almost $40,000 and even more years off the term of the loan. With credit cards, the same mathematics apply.  The larger the payment over the minimum monthly requirement, the faster the debt gets paid and the less interest you will pay over the over the life of the debt.

Review your bank account to determine if it is the best product for you. 
Review your monthly bank statement to see exactly what fees you paid during the last billing cycle.  For example, are you charged for every check and ATM withdrawals?  You may find you can save money by simply changing from one type of account to another or by consolidating multiple accounts into one.

Pay bills on-line.  
Today, most major businesses and service providers, including utilities and phone companies, have websites for their customers.   With the cost of a postage stamp now at 37 cents, it may be worth your while to pay recurring debts over the net.  Youíll also save the costs of envelopes and avoid late fees because you will have complete control over when the payment gets made and applied to your account. 

Change your computer passwords. 
With identity theft now the number-one fraud in the country, you canít be too careful when it comes to safeguarding computer passwords and personal information.  Most of us donít change our passwords frequently enough.  Take the time to change all of your passwords.  Avoid using common passwords like birthdates, names or other familiar codes that can be easily broken.  Instead, use a mix of random numbers and letters.  Hackers will have a harder time deciphering your information if you do. 

Check Your Credit Report.
Make it a New Yearís resolution to check your credit reports on a frequent basis and address any discrepancies or errors.  Reviewing and managing your credit is important for two reasons.  First, if someone has stolen your identity you will know it because you will see inquiries and new debt on the report that you didnít create.  Second, creditors use credit reports to rate your creditworthiness and establish an interest rate.  By correcting any errors, you may save money on loans and other types of credit.

The Department of Financial Services has launched a statewide campaign to promote financial literacy in Florida among all age groups.  For information on the campaign and more financial tips, log onto