Happy New Year! Whether your personal finances took a turn for the better or for the worse in 2010, there’s no better time than the present to ensure that things look rosy in 2011. Take the time to research each of these personal finance categories and determine what you can do to improve them over the next 12 months.

1. Pay down debt

If you have consumer debt, one of your first personal finance New Year’s resolutions should be to pay down your debt this year. Challenge yourself to go beyond the minimum payments and focus on getting your accounts paid off as soon as possible.

According to the credit card repayment calculator on the Federal Reserve website, if you have a $2,500 balance with a 9.9 percent interest rate and a $50 minimum payment, it will take you about 12 years to pay off the account. During the course of these 12 years, you’ll pay $1,348 in interest. If you bump the payment up to $75 per month, you’ll pay off the account in three years and only pay $436 in interest.

2. Beef up savings

If you use your credit cards as an emergency fund, now may be the time to start setting aside a real emergency fund. I’m not talking about an “oh no, the economy is going to collapse” emergency fund but a “my transmission went out on my car” emergency fund. Financial experts recommend that you set aside cash to cover anywhere from three to 12 months or more of your expenses in an emergency fund, but you can decide for yourself how much you’re comfortable with. Set a savings goal this year and keep track of your progress monthly.

3. Retirement planning

No matter your age, you need to start thinking about retirement. Unfortunately, many Americans are lacking in the retirement savings department. According to a March 2010 report (PDF) issued by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 27 percent of American workers had less than $1,000 in their retirement account and 54 percent had $25,000 or less set aside for retirement.

If you’re underprepared for retirement, 2011 is a great year to start. With the 2 percent payroll tax holiday this year, consider diverting 2 percent of your pay into your company’s 401k and then vow to contribute more as you free up room in your budget.

4. Life insurance

Although you may carry life insurance through your employer, you should consider an independent policy as well. Life insurance recommendations vary, but there are several tools out there to guide you, including Bankrate.com’s life insurance calculator.

5. Will and estate planning

Whether you have a wife and kids or you’re a single person, setting up a will and an estate plan is a wise move. Resolve to meet with an estate attorney and an investment advisor to get your will in place and an estate plan laid out. Don’t forget to include a health care proxy.

6. College savings

If Americans’ general savings and retirement savings are falling short, it’s safe to bet that college savings are as well. If you’re a parent, now is the time to start planning for how you’ll pay for your child’s college expenses. Student loans are a burden and if you are in a position to help your child avoid them, then don’t skip this important personal financial planning step.

7. Compare prices on insurance

I encourage everyone to compare their insurance prices with both their existing companies and competitors on an annual basis. If you have your auto and homeowner’s policies through separate companies, look into combining them into one company so you can take advantage of the multi-line discount. This is also a good time to make sure that your coverage levels meet your current needs: did you buy a new piece of jewelry in 2010? If so, you may need to add a rider to your homeowner’s policy to cover the new piece.

8. Educate yourself

Although you may not be an investment advisor, an insurance agent or a financial guru, you need to take the time to educate yourself in all things personal finance. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply read. Check out the popular personal finance websites to stay up-to-date on the latest news items and head to your library for new personal finance books.

These are eight items that I’m working on in 2011, what are your personal finance New Year’s resolutions?

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