As we approach the end of the year, there are important personal financial takeaways from 2023 you can keep a closer eye on as we enter 2024.
Read on to learn money lessons Americans likely learned in 2023 and how you can manage your money better as we enter a new year and a evolving economy.
Many Americans learned about CDs and money market accounts for the first time this year as they looked to take advantage of high-yielding interest rate accounts for parked cash, said Arijit Roy, executive vice president, head of consumer segment & solutions, at U.S. Bank in Chicago.
The interest rate you can earn on deposit products like certificates of deposit (CDs), money market accounts and high-interest savings accounts are typically set in relation to the Federal Reserve interest rate.
"So, as those interest rates have gone up this year, so have the earned interest rates on deposit products," Roy told FOX Business.
"This means consumers who took advantage of this scenario were earning upwards of about 4-5%, or even more on their money. We haven’t seen rates like that in decades."
As interest rates grew this year, so did interest charged on credit cards with APR (annual percentage rates) at their highest levels in decades, explained Roy.
"On average, it costs about $50 more per month this year versus last to carry a $1,000 balance," Roy said.
"The Federal Reserve has raised rates more rapidly this cycle than in decades, so consumers should know that their loans with floating APRs (such as a credit card with an APR) are now paying more for the same balances," Roy told FOX Business.
APRs are linked to the Fed Funds rate, and as this rate has risen, so have their APRs, he said.
"The real-world implication is that if consumers made the same payments on a loan with an APR – more of that payment is now going towards paying the interest payment instead of the principal."
So, the money lesson here is that knowing how much you are paying on revolving debt is critical to making financial decisions. In a "higher for longer" environment, it is prudent to pay down the highest interest loans first, Roy explained. To keep a better handle on this situation in 2024, Roy advised reading statements of all existing debt, understanding balances and APRs and prioritizing how you can pay down your highest APR debt first.
With rising costs and your money buying less than you’re used to, how can consumers plan better?
Roy suggests putting off non-essential purchases and rethinking your spending. Among the strategies are setting a budget, itemizing fixed and variable expenses and prioritizing savings.
"Regularly evaluating and improving your budget is the key to budgeting successfully," Roy said.
According to Roy, it’s important for consumers to select stable, solid institutions that can meet them where they want to be met through a mobile app or on their local main street.
"Consumers should do their research in selecting who they bank with. The ubiquity of branches, reliable call center support, features in the app can be more valuable than an additional 0.50% yield from a lesser-known institution," he told FOX Business.
Regardless of age, income, race or marital status, every day is a good day to save, noted Roy.
"Emergency savings are a must have," he emphasized. "The usual rule of thumb is having three months take-home pay in emergency savings. If consumers are seeing this number lower than those levels, our advice would be to replenish this buffer."
The alternative is borrowing these funds at significantly higher interest rates, he said.
Next, Roy said, it makes sense to save for specific goals and life events — planned vacation, medical treatments and life events like relocation and weddings, which are usually events that occur with a fair amount of notice.
Finally, for significant life events (retirement, estate transfer, etc.) to the extent possible, he recommended planning ahead of the event and trying to rebalance portfolios to carry more cash in savings accounts with attractive yields.