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4 ways to achieve financial empowerment this year

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(BPT) - Finances are consistently a top concern for many Americans, with “saving money” ranking among their primary common goals. This year, Americans are more concerned than ever due to the uncertainty created by high inflation, rising interest rates, lack of income growth and dwindling savings. According to investment research site YCharts, the U.S. personal savings rate for January 2024 was 3.8% vs. 19.3% in January 2021, a 15.5% drop in just three years.

Here are some interesting stats on the state of the U.S. economy:

  • Per Gallup, 45% rate the American economy as poor; with 63% saying it is getting worse, not better
  • 63% of respondents tell Gallup that high prices pose a severe or moderate financial hardship
  • A 2023 survey conducted by Payroll.org highlighted that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a 6% increase from the previous year. In other words, more than three-quarters of Americans struggle to save or invest after paying for their monthly expenses
  • Similarly, a 2023 Forbes Advisor survey revealed that nearly 70% of respondents either identified as living paycheck to paycheck (40%) or — even more concerning — reported that their income doesn’t even cover their standard expenses (29%)
  • The Labor Department reported that in October of 2023 nearly 8.4 million people held multiple jobs — the highest level since July 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began
  • According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, U.S. consumer credit card debt topped $1.1 trillion in the last quarter of 2023

The economy and job markets remain in a state of constant flux, which is causing many families to worry about their ability to pay an unexpected bill, continue to pay off student loans, mortgages or credit card debt, or save money for the future.

“Saving money is more than just putting spare change into a coffee can or simply ordering takeout less often,” said Sam Jarman, financial expert, Mercury Content Partner. “Sure, those things can add up over time, but people may find that their greatest savings can come from taking a look at the necessary expenses they pay for every month, such as insurance.”

Jarman recommends these four tips to help protect your finances:

1. Check your auto insurance coverages. There’s no reason to pay for more coverage than you need, but being underinsured can leave you exposed. “The cost of repairs after a collision has grown in recent years, both as a result of more crossovers and SUVs on the road, and more technologically advanced vehicles,” said Jarman. “Beyond paying for more expensive repairs if your insurance doesn’t cover it, if you’re underinsured, you may also be responsible for paying out of pocket for medical bills, which could potentially devastate savings for a down payment on a house, your child’s college tuition or a future vacation. It’s vitally important to make sure you have the right amount of auto insurance coverage to protect against unforeseen events.”

2. Know what your homeowners insurance covers. First and foremost, be sure to read your homeowners insurance policy so you’re clear about what it does and doesn’t cover. It’s a good idea to check in with your agent each year to ensure you have adequate coverage, especially if you’ve made renovations, own collectible or valuable items, or live in an area that’s prone to flooding or earthquakes, as standard homeowners insurance policies typically don’t cover these situations. Also, maintain a home inventory to make sure to have an accurate record of your belongings and property.

3. Be aware of potential gaps in coverage. A standard homeowners insurance policy often doesn’t cover mechanical failures to your home’s appliances, HVAC or other essential systems, nor does it cover a break to service lines on your property that supply your home with electricity, gas or sewer functions. In either of these scenarios, this means you would be responsible for writing a big check to a repair company or having to purchase a pricey replacement. However, adding home systems protection and service line protection endorsements can help provide coverage for costly repairs and replacements, saving you both money and peace of mind. Pennies spent now can save you dollars down the road.

4. Regularly shop for the best coverage and price. Insurance prices can vary significantly from company to company, so it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to see if you’re getting a good deal. Shop around at least once a year — making sure to look for the exact same coverage limits — to see if you can find a more affordable rate. Additionally, check what discounts your carrier may offer. You may qualify for a discount you didn’t know existed.

“Often, regional insurers like Mercury Insurance are more attuned to their policyholders' needs and can offer better rates,” Jarman added. “For example, the California Department of Insurance found that Mercury auto insurance policyholders save an average of $1,008, which can go a long way in feeling more secure in your savings.”

The most effective way to make sure your finances are minimally impacted by insurance costs is to speak to an independent insurance agent. They can help make sure you have the proper amount and type of coverage to keep yourself, your family and property protected.