Here's a secret that you may already know but it can't hurt to remember: personal finance is a skill. How you use your credit, where you put your savings, how you invest for retirement or for your children's future -- it all takes knowledge, patience and planning.
That said, just about any skilled practitioner will tell you that there's no substitute for a combination of study and practice if you want to get better at what you do. Here are five books still warm from the presses that can help make you even smarter about credit for 2014.
No-nonsense financial pointers
Clark Howard has made a career out of helping people cut through the brambles on the road to personal finance independence. You might know him from his appearances on TV or his daily communiques over talk radio, but he's also had a hand in producing a whole stack of books aimed at increasing consumer wisdom. His latest offering, "Living Large for the Long Haul: Consumer-Tested Ways to Overhaul Your Finances, Increase Your Savings, and Get Your Life Back On Track," focuses on credit, real estate, retirement, health care and travel, among other topics, and takes a more eclectic approach to personal finance than some other titles that might concentrate on important single aspects like raising your credit score or eliminating debt.
Win the battle against money woes
Army veteran Jeff Rose brings a military angle to his personal finance approach, but it doesn't take a soldier to appreciate the engaging, informative style of "Soldier of Finance: Take Charge of Your Money and Invest in Your Future." Rose models his novel financial guide on the Soldier's Handbook, the training manual issued to all Army recruits in basic training, in order to help readers turn their struggle against money troubles into a winning battle. Students and beginners are likely to get the most out of the investment and credit score fundamentals laid out in these pages, but even well-traveled personal financiers might pick up a few new tricks from the book's fresh take on the basics and clear action steps.
Quick, informative credit e-read
"The Top 20 Toxic Credit Mistakes - The Most Valuable Book You Can Have That Will Save You From Destroying Your Credit" by Daniel Sater is designed to deliver bedrock information in concise and intelligible language. This digital-only release can be a good afternoon read for consumers at all levels of credit fitness. If you need a plainspoken, no-nonsense introduction to understanding FICO scores and building and maintaining credit, or if you've started to lose some ground in your once-booming finances and you're looking to pick up a refresher on the basics, this 60-page read can help you construct a solid mental framework of consumer credit concepts.
Conquering credit card debt
Credit card expert and consumer advocate Beverly Harzog sunk perilously deep into credit card debt and lived to tell the tale, returning to the realm of the financially sound with hard-won lessons about the right and wrong ways to use your credit. "Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made" comes packed with advice to help you avoid credit mistakes and tips and strategies for recovering your credit standing if you've already slipped up. She's also got some credit-hacking tips that can help you actually earn money from credit card use, if you need a few more risk-reward ideas in your life.
Reprint of a classic guide
If you've taken much of a foray into personal finance books, you probably recognize Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness." While the contents of the book aren't exactly brand-new -- the semi-radical ideas of The Total Money Makeover have been polarizing consumers and experts since 2003 -- it's just been re-released in hardcover, paperback, audiobook and digital formats for a fresh batch of financial advice-seekers. Be warned, though: Dave Ramsey tends to take a pretty extreme stance on debt as a financial strategy. This one might be just the strong medicine you need if you've tried a few things to get your finances on track and nothing seems to work.
For beginners, the right information on financial literacy can go a long way toward preventing common pitfalls that unwitting credit users tend to fall into. Also, don't forget that picking up a book now and again can also help you self-styled experts stay on top of your game. No matter how much you already know about credit and personal finance, there's always more out there to learn. Happy reading!