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How to save, invest and earn more for a better 2022

Here's some forward-looking advice on how to save more for a rainy day, knock out some debt or finally buy that house.

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This story is part of The Year Ahead, CNET's look at how the world will continue to evolve starting in 2022 and beyond.

Trying to forecast the future can be a fool's errand, but recent trends in the money world and expert financial predictions offer a window into what 2022 may have in store for us. From rising interest rates to inflation pressures to new IRS rules, here's an overview of what we can expect - and how to make the most of our money.

1.) In debt? Make pay down a priority

If you're saddled with high-interest debt, the new year may be a smart time to prioritize knocking down those balances, as the threat of rising interest rates looms.  

"The U.S. Federal Reserve lowered interest rates in response to the pandemic to help stimulate the economy, which made borrowing money far less expensive for consumers. But as the economy continues to improve and the inflation we're seeing now becomes more of a concern, it's likely the Fed will raise interest rates, which will make borrowing more expensive... which can affect everything from mortgages to credit card debt," says Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez, host of Real Simple's Money Confidential podcast. 

"If you have credit card debt, this might be a good time to prioritize getting that balance down as much as possible so you're not just paying the minimums and subject to higher interest rates on your remaining balance as rates rise," she advises.

To ease the rate burden, you may want to consider transferring card balances to cards offering 0% introductory interest rates but only if you can pay down the balance before the promotional rate expires, which is often between 12 and 18 months.

Finally, the threat of rising rates may give some homeowners incentive to refinance. If your current mortgage has a variable interest rate -- which means it could periodically adjust with the market -- 2022 may be a wise time to consider switching to a fixed rate mortgage.  

2.) Focused on saving? Shop around  

In recent years we saw the personal saving rate in this country reach record highs - and for good reason. The uncertainties and life shifts brought upon us from the pandemic led those of us fortunate to still have income streams to save more. The stimulus checks also helped in some cases.

Now, if inflation continues to rear its head as it has in recent months, we may need our savings to pay for the increases in groceries, gas, homes and cars. Mapping out a budget for the new year to factor in some of these price hikes can prove essential, as could parking a little more money in the bank if you've yet to build up savings.  

"If you do not have an emergency fund, aim to save at least three to six months of necessary living expenses in a high-yield savings account," recommends Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez, founder of Zero-Based Budget Coaching LLC in New York. "The emergency fund serves as your financial cushion in the event of a job loss, decrease in income or other life change." 

Start with as little as you can but commit to saving consistently. An app like Digit is popular for helping users save small amounts incrementally. It uses machine learning to figure out the easiest amount you can save here and there and makes the transfers for you. Digit's website says the average user saves $2,200 a year through its app. Membership is $5 per month after a free 30-day trial.

And it's a good time to save, theoretically. While rising rates can spell bad news for those carrying debt, it's typically encouraging for those looking to earn more than the near zero percent rate or return they've been accustomed to in their bank accounts. And as more digital-only financial institutions with higher savings rates enter the marketplace vying for our deposits, more consumers may be incentivized to switch banks.

3.) Behind on retirement savings? Bank on new contribution limits  

If 2022 is the year you want to bump up your retirement savings, good news: In November the IRS announced that savers can set aside an extra $1,000 in their workplace retirement account. This includes the 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans and Thrift Savings Plans. The new contribution limit - which is tax deductible - will be $20,500.

As a reminder to those who may have taken advantage of the CARES Act and taken a coronavirus-related withdrawal from their retirement plan in 2020 at no penalty, you can repay the full amount in 2022 and claim a refund on the taxes you paid. If you haven't done so already, remember that this may be the last eligible year to repay your retirement account to earn back the taxes you may have paid. 

4.) Eyeing a new house? Avoid knee-jerk reactions to rising rates

Prospective homeowners concerned about rising interest rates may be inclined to either sit back on the sidelines or speed up a purchase. But, as always when considering what's probably going to be the biggest financial purchase of your life, consider all of your expenses - and have some perspective. 

"Rates will tick up," says Kathy Braddock, Managing Director of William Raveis NYC. "But most younger buyers need to know that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, rates were close to 20 percent and people still bought homes."  

Braddock's advice to homebuyers is to first do the math to see which move - renting or buying - offers more financial and lifestyle benefits. If you do decide to buy in 2022, it's all the more important to have a strong credit score to bank on the best possible rate. Shop around for a quality loan, and to help ride out market fluctuations, lock your rate and have at least a three-year commitment to staying in the home before needing to sell, says Braddock. Our CNET mortgage calculator can also help you better determine how much house you can afford.

If it's any comfort, the National Realtors Association predicts more housing supply in the next year based on expectations of new construction and the expiration of the mortgage forbearance program prompting some owners to sell. This could help to reduce the rising pace of home prices in the previous year and lessen the sting of rising rates.

5.) Want to make more money? Engage your employer

With 2021's Great Resignation leaving some companies scrambling for new talent, the new year may be a fertile time for you to finally get that promotion or raise. That is, assuming you've been adding value and plan to stay with your company. 

While higher pay may be top of mind, don't forget that there are other financial benefits your employer may be able to address. Financial wellness programs that provide credit counseling and help workers budget and save are increasingly becoming a valuable employer benefit that prospective workers are seeking out. In fact, close to 70 percent of workers say it's their employer's responsibility to help them become financially healthy and secure, according to a 2021 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.  

If you have student loan debt or are considering going back to school, remember that a lesser-known provision in the CARES Act temporarily allows employers to provide up to $5,250 in tax-exempt student loan repayment contributions or tuition assistance each year, through the end of 2025. "With four full years remaining, it's the perfect time for employees to be proactive by asking if their employers are aware of their ability to offer this financial wellness benefit and whether they are willing to do so," says Patricia Roberts, financial aid expert and author of Route 529.   

In summary, 2022 poses some unique financial challenges and opportunities led by the likelihood of inflation and rising interest rates. They're worth considering, as we aim to manage our money well and achieve our short and long-term goals. If you've yet to knock down high-interest credit card debt, start there, then focus on bulking up your emergency fund. Rising mortgage rates may fuel more anxiety in the housing market, but prospective homeowners should have a long-term view and consider all their expenses. Finally, if you're hoping to make more money or get some financial assistance, don't forget: talking to your employer may be a great place to start.