The Year to Take Charge of Your Personal Finances

With a new year comes resolutions to exercise more, eat healthier and get better grades -- but have you thought about building your credit score, budgeting money more effectively or learning about investing? More than two-thirds of college students who graduate say they are unprepared to deal with the financial decisions of professional life. This year, you can learn to manage your money and take charge of controlling your personal finances in just a few steps.

Start building a credit score:

A good credit score will allow you to secure lower interest rates when taking out loans, and will also help you get approved for apartment rentals. Significant factors affecting your credit score include your payment history, amount of debt owed, length of credit history and types of credit used. The biggest principle of building credit is to pay all bills on time -- from your utility bill to your apartment rent. Credit bureaus also look at both your total debt and your debt-to-credit-limit ratio. Not all debt is bad, but be wary of taking on loads of credit card debt. It is necessary to start building a credit score early, since a lengthier credit history can bring a score up. The easiest way to start building your credit score as a student is to open a credit card account. It is also helpful to diversify the types of credit you use; for example, paying through installment loans will raise your score.

Limit your spending:

Now's the time to start budgeting your money. With the holiday shopping season over, there's no longer any excuses to spend money excessively. Make an Excel spreadsheet to log all your purchases by category so you can track where most of your money goes. With credit cards, it's easy to lose sight of where your money is being spent. Alternatively, you can use online services like Mint to plug in your accounts and set spending limits. Mint will track each expense for you and send you an alert when you're near your spending limit. Once set up properly, it is an invaluable tool in keeping track of your finances.

Learn about investing:

You don't need to be a finance major to learn about investing. A good starting point is to understand the concept of compounding: The more time you allow your investments to flourish, the more you are able to bolster the income potential of your original investment. It is also important to learn about the different types of investments, including: stocks, bonds, mutual funds and certificates of deposit. Learning about investing can be intimidating, but you can start at ClassyFinance, a student-run tutorial site that is friendly to beginners.

Reduce extraneous costs:

This year, you can reduce costs by opting out of excessive conveniences. Everyone needs to eat food, but do you have to buy it from a restaurant? You can reduce costs by eating at home. You'll gain valuable cooking skills, eat healthier meals and save money at the same time. The daily cup of coffee that costs you $3.50 can be made at home for much cheaper. It can also be helpful to reduce the "saving with a sale" mentality. Oftentimes, people spend unexpectedly because something is on sale. Even if an item is 60 percent off, by buying it, you didn't really save; instead, you spent money that you probably would not have spent otherwise.

Start saving:

If you have a job, consider allocating a portion of each paycheck to be deposited into your savings account. For example, you can allocate two-thirds of your paycheck to everyday spending costs, and deposit the one-third left. Although interest rates are not high right now, this doesn't mean you should spend all of your income. Putting money into your savings account reduces the temptation to spend the money. Through time, the money you deposit each month will add up to be a significant amount.

2014 is the year you can learn much, grow more and become more responsible. Once you learn about managing your personal finances, spread the word and inspire your friends to do the same.