6. Know Your Credit Score
The big takeaway from the meltdown of 2008 is that banks are going to be a lot less eager to lend money to you. You will need a sparkling financial personality: a FICO score above 700, solid verifiable income, a manageable amount of existing debt—to get good offers for credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and refinancings. And you can expect lenders to continue to tighten the screws on your existing credit lines; all the credit they loved to give you before 2008 now makes them nervous. Get your credit score by going to MyFico.com. If your score is below 700, two of the best ways to improve it are to pay your bills on time and push yourself to reduce your credit card balances.
7. Evaluate Your Retirement Plan
If your 401(k) and Roth IRA lost value in 2008, that's a good sign. It means you were invested in stocks, and that's exactly where you should be invested—assuming your retirement is at least a decade away. Only stocks offer the chance of high returns that outpace the annual 3 to 4 percent inflation rate. In your 20s and 30s, aim to keep 80 percent in stocks and just 20 percent in bonds; you have time to ride out stock swings. As you age, slowly ramp up the percentage in bonds; in your 50s and 60s, consider keeping 40 percent or more in bonds to help buoy your portfolio when stocks are slumping. The biggest mistake you can make is to stop investing in your retirement accounts or to shift money from stocks into "safe" money market accounts.
Instead of worrying that your account is down, remember that your money buys more shares of your retirement funds. The more shares you own now, the more you will make when the market recovers. Buy and hold is the way to go.
Here's some perspective: The 2008 market slide is the tenth bear market (commonly accepted as a decline of at least 20 percent) since 1950. If you'd put your money in stocks in 1950 and stayed invested through the ups and downs, your average annual return through 2007 would have been more than 10 percent. That's not to say you can count on an average of 10 percent over the next 50 or so years (7 to 8 percent is probably more realistic), but it illustrates how keeping focused on the long term pays off.