I decided to go back to Mint.com today to check out how my finances are doing.  It's really an amazing tool, putting all of my money in the same place for me to easily see.  It was always a chore for me to sign in to my bank accounts, then my various credit card accounts, all so I could see how much money I had, how much I owed, and how things were doing for me overall.  Now I just need Mint.com to keep track of it for me!  As I was filling out the information for my new retirement accounts (gosh, that is a strange thing to think about), I also completed the rest of my profile.  One of the questions they had for me was what my credit score is.  Well, I certainly don't have a clue.  In fact, I've never known my credit score!  So, I decided it was time to find out.

It's an interesting thing, these credit reports.  I spent ages filling out information at various sites, trying to find one that gives me my three credit scores (for free), period.  For some reason, whenever they ask me verification questions, I get a little nervous that I will answer incorrectly.  I should know my own activity and history with no problem, right?  And I do, but nonetheless, I have that little tinge of worry when I have to give a correct answer for authentication.  I guess it stems from my childhood fear of authority, where anyone with the power to affect my life can make me uncomfortable.  So in this case, it is their control over whether or not they believe I am me, which in turn determines whether or not they will allow me to access information I want, that scares me.

Well, it turns out my credit ratings aren't half bad (all in the excellent range, yay), but I still have room for improvement.  Luckily, I've never been rejected credit and I tend to get way more than I need, but I still have a ways to go, once I start having a mortgage.  I don't plan on having any loans, but who knows, maybe I will get a good financial adviser who can manage all that for me and actually make me better off by using loans.  I do believe my mom is a guru at that sort of thing.  I am also really pleased with Mint.com because they provide me the information I always was afraid I wouldn't have once my mom can't help me with finances anymore.  As of now, she's always the one I go running to when I have a money issue (like not knowing what type of IRA to open up).  I feel more secure in being able to take care of my own money responsibly now.

I have been very lucky in my life, with parents who have always had the foresight to save money for things we needed/really wanted.  I never had to pay a cent for college, or take out a student loan.  It's an amazing gift to start off my career with no debt hanging over my head.  I don't think I can fully appreciate it since I don't know what it's like to be in debt, but nonetheless, I am grateful.  At the same time, I tried not to exploit this privilege and got a scholarship that helped pay some of my way.  Also, we've never not had the money to purchase things when we really needed them.  Granted, that has a lot to do with our concept of what we actually need.  We're not a very materialistic family, so all the nice things we get we get only when we more than have the means to get it.  I have learned some very good spending habits from my parents and I hope that I can retain that, and not live beyond my means.

My mom has always told me that too many Americans get trapped into spending more than they're earning and borrowing a lot, which leaves little room for error.  On the contrary, our family only takes out loans we know we can pay back, only buy cars that are within our means, and only get houses that have mortgages we can handle.  I admire how well my mom handles money and I wish I had a knack for that myself, but if it were up to me, we'd all just live with cash and never worry about credit cards throwing you into debt or losing money on investments.  Ironic, I guess, since I studied finances quite intently during my undergrad career, but it's not a topic I really care for.  It certainly is very useful though and it's a pity I don't know more.  But, with the booming internet, I can always look up what I need to so it won't be too bad.

So, though I may not know the best ways to handle my money, at least I'll make good choices with what I do know so far and just keep educating myself on what else there is.  Ultimately I'm hoping I can make enough to hire a financial adviser to do all that for me.  I'm not much of a risk-taker though, so I don't know how I'd feel about my money being put into the volatile markets.  It seems lame to keep it all in a savings account though.  Which, by the way, has been disappointing me with the economic downturn.  Supposedly my interest rates are still higher than market rates and rather competitive, but it has been sliced to at least less than half of what it used to be!  It's so unfulfilling to see your money growing so slowly.  With the magic of compound interest though, I just need to wait it out and see better results later down the line.

 
 

Today, I got an e-mail from my mother asking if I had set up an IRA yet.  I had joined Mint.com a few weeks ago, which sent me a couple of e-mails since then, reminding me that if I opened up an Individual Retirement Account before Tax Day, I could save thousands!  Thrice I went, filled out all my info to see what I qualified for, and decided that I should go for a Roth IRA.  Thrice I left it at that, not daring to click on the links below to Fidelity, Scottrade, E*Trade, or Charles Schwab to actually set up an account.  So today, I decided it was now or never.  With only two and a half days left before the big deadline, I went ahead and tried out Fidelity.

After filling out some basic info, I was in and they had not only my Roth IRA info, but also the other retirement accounts I had from previous jobs.  The money I chose to transfer was due to show up in the account in a mere day or two, which is quite speedy for banking transactions.  I've got to say, setting up an account was never so easy!  In fact, a little part of me started to get paranoid that if it was that easy, perhaps it was a fake site I had somehow stumbled upon.  However, the little lock symbol at the bottom corner of my browser reassured me that this site was safe and legit.  I hope I'm not too dependent on that little thing!  Plus, Firefox has been amazing at finding phishing scams and redirecting me before I get to that site.  So all in all, it checked out and I was pleased.

Now I had just closed down my 401(k) from the University of California, since I stopped working there a few months ago, and my mom remembered hearing something about how I could still put that money into my brand new Roth IRA if I had not cashed the check.  Well, the check is still there and just a few weeks old, so I e-mailed in a question about how to take care of that.  Quite early into their work day, I got a very nice reply, complete with caring questions to make sure I knew what I was getting into before I chose to move my money like that.  I have always slightly feared having to take charge of my own money and figure out what to do with it, between stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, and the myriad of investment options out there.  But with a message like that, I felt taken care of and it put me at ease.  Now that's some great customer service.

So, just before my taxes are due, I have taken care of something that makes me feel good about my future.  Yeah, sure, things aren't looking up in the economy right now, but hey, that means the deals now should be the best as companies vie for your business through higher quality or better deals.  Plus, having the deadline extended four and a half months definitely encourages us to save!  Normally what happens in 2008 would have stayed in 2008 for this season's tax reporting, but to push national savings, we were given the new deadline of April 15th.  Lucky me!  It's about time I finally got around to it; I've been meaning to do something about a retirement fund for a couple of years now, but while in college, you don't really feel it as much.  Now that I've entered the working world, it's time to be responsible for what happens to my money and do what I can to maximize my returns while preparing for the future.

I'm feeling a lot better about my finances and I'm no longer so scared about not knowing what to do with my money.  It's great to know there are knowledgeable people out there who can help me.  Thinking about this reminds of my ex-bosses from Smith Barney, who were financial advisers for people in the aerospace industry.  Maybe someday they (or their proteges) will be able to handle Panda's finances for him.  :-P  Ultimately, I would like to be well-off enough to hire someone to help invest our money for us.  Otherwise, it's just too stressful to keep up with the changing markets and understand the latest benefits of putting your money in so-and-so.  For now, I'll just keep putting as much money away as I can manage and try to reap the benefits of compound interest.