by Michele Cagan, CPA
1. Pay off every penny of credit card debt. You'll earn sky-high (18 to 22 percent!) returns just by paying your credit card balance in full rather than making the minimum monthly interest-laden payments.
2. Build yourself an emergency fund. Start a separate bank account for this purpose alone. It should have enough money to cover at least three to six months of living expenses.
3. Set up and follow a household budget. Keep track of where your money comes from and (even more important) where it's going.
4. Set clear financial goals. Whether you want to save for a new car this year or retirement twenty years from now, you need to know why you're investing.
5. Determine your time frame. How long your money will be working for you plays a key role in designing the best portfolio.
6. Know your risk tolerance. Investing can bring about as many downs as ups, and you have to know just how much uncertainty you can comfortably stand.
7. Figure out your asset allocation mix. Before you start investing, know what proportion of your portfolio will be dedicated to each asset class (like stocks, bonds, and cash, for example).
8. Improve your understanding of the markets. That includes learning about the big picture, such as the global political and economic forces that drive the markets and affect asset prices.
9. Set up your brokerage account. Whether you decide to start out with a financial advisor or take a more do-it-yourself approach, you'll need to have an open brokerage account before you can make your first trade.
10. Analyze every investment before you buy it. Buy only investments that you have researched and fully understand; never risk your money on an unknown.