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Five tips to improve your financial health in 2013

(BPT) - Creating better financial habits tops many New Year's resolution lists every year. If it is on your list for 2013, there are a few steps you could consider...

(BPT) - Creating better financial habits tops many New Year's resolution lists every year. If it is on your list for 2013, there are a few steps you could consider to help you pursue your goals.

According the Fall Merrill Edge Report, 77 percent of mass affluent Americans - those with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets - said they are going to track and manage their budget over the next six months. Another 65 percent said they are going to save for retirement and 61 percent said they are balancing their short- and long-term financial needs.

'When planning for the New Year, it's more important than ever to think about your financial goals,' says Dean Athanasia president of Preferred and Small Business Banking at Bank of America. 'As Americans take on more complex financial responsibilities, we encourage them to gain more control over their financial future by setting goals, seeking counsel and saving earlier for retirement as well as their children's education.'

While your strategy should be catered to your unique financial situation, here are five common tips to help you improve your financial health in 2013.

Set your budget before you start spending

The most dangerous way to spend throughout the year is to swipe your credit card and wait until the end of the month to check the damage. Creating a budget before you spend is a great way to stay on track throughout the year. Once you have a full picture of where your money goes each month, you can find more places to save - perhaps you're dining out on the town more than you expect.

Set a monthly meeting with your spouse

Regular discussions with your spouse about finances can lead to greater financial confidence, according the Merrill Edge Report. Sixty-nine percent of mass affluent couples are discussing their finances at least a few times per month, and 64 percent believe that these ongoing financial conversations will help them achieve their financial goals. In addition, couples say they discuss day-to-day purchases, such as groceries, nearly as much as they discuss large purchases, like a home or car. Getting into the routine can be the hardest part, but scheduling a monthly meeting is an easy way to begin.

Raise your 401(k) contribution

Most major companies that offer 401(k) plans match a percentage of your contributions. Typically, these matches could range from 25 to 100 percent, up to 6 percent of your salary. Even if the match is at the low end, that's a great return on investment. Contributing another 2 to 3 percent of your paycheck to your retirement savings could help you pursue your goal of long-term financial stability.

Create an emergency fund by setting an automatic deduction

Over the next six months, 47 percent of the mass affluent say they are creating an emergency fund, according to the Merrill Edge Report. You should work toward having three to six months of savings in an emergency account. That total is less daunting if you automatically deduct a contribution from your account each month. After a couple of months, most people begin to think of it as a bill they have to pay and in no time, you'll have fully funded your account.

Open a college savings account

Eighty-four percent of mass affluent with young children are concerned about the rising cost of college, and half of all mass affluent parents (50 percent) wish they had started saving for their first child's education earlier. The best time to start saving is now, and talking with your savings provider about opening a college savings account is a great way to get that started.

These are just five quick things you can do to help improve your finances in 2013. Adding these and more to your to-do list could help you be more organized and confident not only about next year, but in the years to follow.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

Merrill Edge is available through Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (MLPF&S), and consists of the Merrill Edge Advisory Center (investment guidance) and self-directed online investing. MLPF&S is a registered broker-dealer, member SIPC and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation. Investment products are not FDIC insured, are not bank guaranteed and may lose value.

This information should not be construed as investment advice. It is presented for information purposes only and is not intended to be either a specific offer by any Merrill Lynch entity to sell or provide, or a specific invitation for a consumer to apply for, any particular retail financial product or service that may be available through the Merrill Lynch family of companies.

Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A., Member FDIC.

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