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Spring cleaning for your wallet

By Justin Boyle

Spring cleaning for your wallet

The spring equinox is approaching, and thousands of people are getting ready to rid themselves of clutter that has piled up over the previous year. While everyone's getting their houses in order, take the time to open the dusty door on the storehouse of your personal finance and credit habits. It might be time for spring cleaning in there too.

The beginning of spring is a great time to check your life for pockets of stagnant energy, like the corners of the garage or the back of your closet, and clean them out so that new and good things can take over. Spring is the season of new growth, after all, and new growth tends to thrive when old and needless things are removed from its surroundings.

Some of us approach our credit cards and personal finance habits in the same way we approach the clutter under the bed: If we don't look at the mess, it isn't there. Take a cue from the closet-cleaners and garage-salers this season and see if you can't vacuum some stagnant energy out of your wallet. Here are four tips for getting started:

1. Consider consolidation

I know from personal experience that it can be hard to keep track of multiple credit bills each month. If you can find a zero- or low-interest balance transfer credit card offer with a high enough limit to shoulder the lion's share of what you owe on credit, it might be prudent to shift your smaller balances over.

As far as what to do with the cards whose balances you empty, take a look at tip number two.

2. Navigate your credit rating pitfalls

We've talked about the wide variety of factors that can influence your credit score -- that crucial figure -- and credit utilization is one of them. It's important to have a certain ratio of credit limit to credit balance, although that ratio is rarely talked about in precise terms.

If you close all the cards that once held your transferred balances, your utilization ratio might climb to a level high enough to cause you trouble in the credit score department. What's more, if you close cards that you've had for a long time, they'll be deducted from your credit history's length and perhaps hurt your credit score that way too.

3. Tidy up your rewards points

When you're just going about your daily life, doing the things you need to do, it might be easy to forget that some of your credit cards have been out there earning rewards points on every dollar you spend. It helps to examine the balances in your rewards accounts from time to time and make sure that you're not missing out on any perks.

Some credit card rewards points expire, so check around your credit company's fine print to see if you need to spend those points in the near future.

4. Talk to the pros

Sometimes it's clear that your car needs a tune-up, but in those situations you don't just grab a ratchet set and go hacking away under the hood (unless you're a trained mechanic, of course). Your collection of credit cards may not have as much horsepower as an internal combustion engine, but making big changes without knowing what you're doing can go wrong in a similarly dramatic way.

A quick call to your bank or credit company customer service line might be the easiest way to get a full picture of the size of the mess you're dealing with. Sometimes, if you've been good, your credit company will lower your interest rate or increase your credit limit if you only ask.

Of course, the beginning of spring is just one occasion to turn your attention to getting your financial house in order. We'd all do well to put these tips into practice any season they come to mind.

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer and journalist living in Austin, Texas. He has covered education, technology, arts & culture, world news and personal finance for various outlets and in various cities since 2007.

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