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How to make personal finance resolutions for 2019

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The U.S. economy is predicted to slow in 2019. But that doesn't mean your personal finances have to take a hit. According to a Fidelity Investments survey, almost one-third of Americans plan to make a money resolution for the new year, with 48 percent planning to save more and 29 percent aiming to pay down debt. But how to do it? 

MPR host Chris Farrell talked to Jacquette Timmons, a self-described financial behaviorist who runs her own financial advice firm, and Ramona Ortega, the founder and CEO of My Money My Future, a mission-driven financial tech company that helps Millennials, particularly young women and minorities, manage their money with confidence.

• Stay current on student loans, but use excess cash for investing.

Student loans, especially for undergrad work, typically have a low interest rate. Ramona Ortega advised that recent grads make the minimum payment on those types of loans, instead of working to pay them off as soon as possible. Better, she said, to take any extra money and start investing. 

• Not all debt is bad.

Jacquette Timmons said, "You have to ask yourself: What is the purpose of that debt?  If it's helping you wisely meet one of your goals, it's not a bad thing."

"Being debt-free doesn't give you a great credit score. Being responsible with debt gives you a good credit score," she added. "Use your credit card. Pay it off fully at the end of the month. You don't have to go into debt. Companies just want to see that you pay your bills."

• Use the new year as an opportunity to do a financial 360.

Ortega: Take the opportunity to be reflective and ask: Where am I at with my investments? What kind of savings do I want to have? What am I saving for? I also often pull my credit report to see if there's anything I need to do. Everyone can do that for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com.

Timmons: Before you start to make resolutions for 2019, do a year-end review of 2018. What worked, what didn't work, what lessons did you learn? If you aren't already, start tracking your finances; there are many apps to help with that. Look for financial patterns. What's the point of moving forward if you're not being intentional? You want your financial decisions to support your goals.

• Keep an emergency savings account, but cap it. 

Ortega: Emergency savings accounts are great. Put the money in the highest interest-bearing account you can find and still keep it liquid. Cap that emergency account between $6,000-$10,000 and invest after that. 

Timmons: Don't have a singular savings account. Have multiple, depending on your goals. Maybe you have one for emergency situations, another for a goal you are trying to reach. Timing is a good way to determine if you should keep your money accessible. If your goal is going to be achieved in 0-5 years, that needs to stay liquid. If your goal is more than 6 years away, then you can invest it and look for a higher return. 

• Be on guard for identity theft.

Check your credit report at least once a year, said Ortega. If you have reason to be concerned, report it to the credit bureaus so it's noted on your credit report. Go to the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau to report potential fraud. If you're not in the process of applying for new lines of credit, you can also freeze your credit temporarily. 

• Consider hiring a financial planner, even for just one meeting.

This doesn't have to be someone who will manage your money full-time, said Timmons. You just want someone to look over your decisions and maybe give you some suggestions. 

Ortega added that the benchmark to a financial manager is having at least $100,000 in net worth. If you have less than that, learn to manage it yourself. "It's important to understand how all these complex decisions come together," she said. 

• Advice for recent college graduates paying down student loans.

Timmons: Pay the minimum each month and a little more, even if it's $10 above, if you can. 

Ortega: Consider consolidation if you have more than one loan. It will be easier to make one monthly payment.

 Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion