Get Organized and Clean Up Your Finances
Spring is a great time to get organized and clean up your finances — from consolidating bank accounts to looking for spending leaks. “If you aren’t organized, you miss out on opportunities to improve your financial situation,” says Heather Klutznick, vice president of investments for Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Trilogy Financial.
Once you organize your finances, you will be ready to take action on your budget and other financial goals.
Don’t think you have the time? Pick one area and focus on that first. A few hours on the front end will give you peace of mind and prevent frantic searches later for a specific document.
Purge Your Piles
- Most monthly statements can be pitched after one year, but if you plan on buying a house, keep two years' worth of utility bills, pay stubs and bank and credit card statements (or access them through online platforms). [See SAM's free Spending and Saving course for more on how long to keep specific documents.]
- As you are organizing your finances, shred paper you don’t need and file by category what you want to keep or scan important records and store them on a secure hard drive.
Save the Essentials
One-of-a-kind documents and those needed as proof of ownership or amounts paid should stay with you for the long haul. These items include:
- Tax returns and year-end investment statements. Klutznick notes that when you retire or liquidate a specific investment, you will need to calculate what you owe in taxes.
- Active deeds and policies, such as your auto insurance policy and deed of sale for your car.
- Receipts for and photos of big-ticket items to support your insurance claim in the event of theft or damage.
- Keep these and other important documents (i.e. marriage license, will and passport) in a locked, fireproof and waterproof box.
Is all the paperwork stressing you out? Get organized by going digital and losing the physical clutter.
- If you have regular access to a computer, setting up online pay for your bills can go a long way towards streamlining the organization of your finances. In many cases, you can choose to have monthly deductions taken automatically from your bank account or you can choose to manually initiate each payment.
- Use only a password-protected secure network (not free Wi-Fi hot spots) when logging in to pay bills.
- If a service provider posts statements only for the last year, download or print those you want to save longer. Make sure to back up your computer files regularly.
- Alternatively, scan important documents and save those files to a secure cloud-based service or on a separate hard drive.
Update and Consolidate
When you organize and clean up your finances, updating and consolidating accounts can save you money and legal headaches down the line.
- Consolidate financial accounts. For example, close the checking account you don't use and move funds from your old 401(k) to your current retirement account.
- Consolidate credit cards. Choose the lowest interest rates and best loyalty benefits. But before you shift money among cards, check to see if there are balance-transfer fees.
- Update beneficiaries on insurance policies and retirement accounts.
- Create or update your will.
- Gather new quotes for car, home and life insurance and adjust coverage levels if needed.
- Check your mortgage rates and see if it makes sense to refinance.
- Check your credit at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can check your own credit as often as you like without impacting your credit score. However, you are only allowed one free copy of your report from each of the three credit bureaus per year. You either can check one bureau (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax) every four months, or you can check all three at one time and wait 12 months to check again.
- Check fees on phone, cable and other bills to see if you are paying for services you don’t use.
Communicate About Finances
Among couples, when one person pays the bills, the other may be out of touch with household finances. Now is a great time to get organized and on the same page. Talk about expenses, spending and financial goals. "If you have kids, involve them in basic conversations about money to provide them context for the money-related decisions you and they make," Klutznick says. Explain the basic concepts of saving, budgeting, income and expenses. [Need a refresher? Start with our free Money Basics courses.]
Reset Your Budget
Now that you’ve organized your finances, take stock of life changes since last year — such as a move, new baby or job change. Then readjust spending and saving levels. Rebalance investments. Also, make or update plans for paying down debt and avoid taking on new debt.
[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by National Endowment for Financial Education.]