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Seven Ways to Free Up Cash You Already Have

Need money? Complete these nagging personal-finance tasks today.
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You may have started the year with resolutions, but it's easy to get distracted and forget about your good financial intentions. If this has happened to you, don't worry: It's not too late to remedy the situation. I recommend setting aside a single day early in each year to tackle those lingering personal finance chores. Start by reviewing the contracts and agreements you have with banks and service providers. At a minimum, you should:

1. Read your credit card agreements. If there's something you don't understand, now is a good time to dial up customer service and ask for clarification. Sometimes the answers are obvious--but sometimes they're not.

2. Check your service levels. Are you still paying for a gym membership you no longer use? Forking over a fortune for deluxe cable TV when you mainly watch Hulu? Go through your monthly bills and cancel the services you don't need.

3. Ask for lower rates. As you review your bills, pick up the phone and ask (politely) for a discount. It takes only a few minutes to call the cable company, and they just might cut you a break. But remember: You always have the right to ask for a discount, but it's not your right to receive one. If the answer is no, don't be a jerk. Thank the representative and move on.

4. Optimize your bank accounts. For 17 years, I was an account holder at a large national bank. I paid an $8 service charge every month, yet I received terrible service and earned no interest. Eventually I wised up; I switched my checking account to a local credit union and moved my savings to an online high-yield savings account. You should, too. To find the best deals, check out or

5. Inspect your investments. Examine investment balances and asset allocation to ensure that things are going according to your investment plan. Don't have an investment plan? Start by reading a good introduction, such as Burton Malkiel's The Random Walk Guide to Investing.

6. Review your insurance. Are you carrying policies with three different companies? Consolidate. Check the deductibles on your auto and homeowners insurance. Can you afford to raise them and pay the first $1,000 in case of loss? Is your liability coverage high enough?

7. Reread your lease or rental agreement. If you rent your home or office, make sure you're clear on the terms. While you're at it, consider asking for a rent reduction. Sound crazy? If you're a good tenant and regularly pay on time, it's not so far-fetched.

These tasks may be boring, but they're important. Terms and conditions change frequently, as does your own financial situation. Spending one day a year to review your agreements may keep you from getting trapped in pricey contracts.

And, if you ask me, there's nothing boring about saving money.

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