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Education Center » Ready, set, go! Helping you run the race to financial freedom

Ready, set, go! Helping you run the race to financial freedom


There’s a way to gain control of your finances, and it’s not as hard as you might think. Find your starting position on these challenging routes and push through to the next level until you’re victorious.

A list depicting budgeting


Get real: If your first reaction is, “What budget?” you’re in trouble. If your budget is nonexistent, it’s probably reflected in a rising credit card balance. Review the following stages of building a budget to learn more.


Get moving:

Start by spending less than you make—even if, week to week, you feel like you’re behind the eight ball. You’ll get used to it sooner than you think.

Take the lead:

Track your spending. Consider using a budgeting app to help.

Cross the finish line:

Employ a simple system for the long term, such as the “50/30/20 rule”: Spend 50% on essentials, 30% on discretionary items and 20% on financial goals (e.g., retirement, savings, debt paydown, etc.).

Emergency shield symbolizing saving

Emergency savings

Get real: Emergencies—aren’t they what credit cards are for? Of course, the answer is a resounding NO! You may take care of an immediate crisis with plastic, but you could leave yourself saddled with a debt that costs much more over time. Review the stages of building emergency savings to learn more.


Get moving:

An important first step is to keep one month of living expenses in the bank—and add to it whenever you can.

Take the lead:

Next, keep three months of expenses saved and make a deposit every time you get a “bonus”—like a tax refund.

Cross the finish line:

Finally, continue to set aside funds until you’re able to cover six months of expenses. Consider setting up an auto-transfer to feed a savings account every payday until you get there. Explore your savings account options at

Credit card depicting debt

Credit card debt

Get real: Carrying a balance on your credit card(s) and just paying the minimum? You may know others doing the same and hope that you’re on the right track. But if you’re employing this strategy, depending on the size of your debt you may not reach a zero balance for a very long time—if ever. Review the stages of alleviating credit card debt to learn more.


Get moving:

If you pay only the minimum on your credit card, it takes you much longer to pay it off, so pay a bit extra each month. Every dollar over the minimum payment goes toward your balance, and the smaller your balance, the less you will pay in interest.

Take the lead:

Make the minimum payment on all your cards except the one with the smallest balance—throw every dollar you can at that one until it’s paid off. Then repeat with the next card in line.

Cross the finish line:

Get a credit card that offers 0% interest, and transfer your balances to it for the life of the offer (usually 12�18 months). Then pay it off before the interest spikes. To find the right credit card for your situation, try the Bank of America Credit Card Finder. And remember: Once you’re debt free, make sure to stay that way by paying off your balance every month.

Nest egg depicting retirement planning

Retirement planning

Get real: If you haven’t been maximizing your opportunities to prepare for your golden years—even if you’ve been using your available dollars to save for your kids’ college instead—it’s time for a reality check. Consider the simple fact that your kids may be able to get loans toward their goals—but you won’t. Review the stages of retirement planning to learn more.


Get moving:

Make sure you contribute at least 3% of your annual income to your employer’s 401(k) plan. And if the plan offers a matching contribution, make sure you contribute enough to get the full match amount.

Take the lead:

Sign up for your plan’s automatic increase program,1 which lets you increase your 401(k) contribution gradually on a regular basis. Set a personal goal to increase your contributions to 10%, or more.

Cross the finish line:

Contribute the maximum amount to your 401(k) every year—for 2021 that means putting in $19,500, plus an additional $6,500 if you are age 50 or older (subject to plan limits). If your plan is through Merrill, log on to Benefits OnLine® to increase your contributions today.

The race to financial freedom can certainly be challenging. But, with some focus and diligence at each stage, you will find that improving your financial situation is well within your grasp.

Learn more and take action



1 Not available in all plans.