How to Get Your Finances Organized Now

Those Christmas receipts are waiting in stacks on your dining room table. Unopened bank statements are among the overflow cluttering the kitchen counter. And your “I-must-get-to-it” pile mounts higher. Time to get financially organized?!

One year ends, another begins…which makes this the perfect time to get your financial house in order. But perhaps procrastination is holding you back, or maybe you just don’t know where to start?

Financial goals top New Year’s resolution list

Being financially organized encompasses more than merely having a financial plan suggested by an advisor, paying your bills, and knowing how much is in your bank account. Getting your financial house in order includes a variety of common tasks or updates, some that need to be done annually and others that are “once-and-done.” While everyone’s financial “to dos” may be a bit different, your overall approach can follow a similar routine to mold good habits and keep you financially fit.

Work financial fitness checklist into your routine

Try looking at your financial life much as you would your physical fitness, a menu plan or changing your diet when your goal is to stay healthy. You would probably keep annual dental visits, watch your calorie intake, and get an exercise routine, right? Plus you might use grocery lists for menu planning and try healthier recipes, perhaps repeating the dishes you enjoy and eliminating those you don’t?

You can ace your financial fitness checkup with a similar routine. Just assess-adapt-automate – and repeat.

Triple A checklist: Assess – Adapt – Auto-pilot…Repeat.

If you don’t have one, now is a great time to create your financial checklist. Specifically, that’s a list of itemized tasks you need to accomplish for the year, things you might need to change from year to year, and tasks you can simplify.

Sounds sooooo simple….but life just kept getting in your way last year and you didn’t get it done? Totally understandable. Staying financially fit is an ongoing goal for most of us – you can never really set-it-and-forget-it, much like your weight. But keep plugging away at those financial “to dos” when you get the chance, and you’ll find yourself more financially fit.

Here are 7 tasks to assess and include on your annual financial checklist:

  1. Collect and separate your 2018 receipts. Keep those needed to prove tax deductions. Don’t know what to keep or for how long? Use our printable checklist.
  2. Collect the year’s pay stubs, banking statements, and broker statements. This checklist shows how long to keep these docs too.
  3. Shred mail containing your private information before discarding. You may do this more frequently. But if you keep a “to-shred” stack, it’s likely piling up and time to handle it.
  4. Update HSA and FSA amounts. If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Flex Spending Account (FSA), be sure to earmark amounts to fund them for the coming year. Then use up those FSA dollars, generally by year end.
  5. Make a budget. With all those receipts handy, it’s easier to assess what you typically spend and budget an amount for the coming year. Find a printable budget here.
  6. Look at your 3 credit reports and freeze your files. Make it harder for identity thieves. Find contact info here.
  7. Make a net worth statement. This is a list of all assets (including banking and investment accounts) and all debts (including credit card balances and loans). You can add specifics to your financial situation. For example, you may be:
  • contributing to one or several college 529 plans, withdrawing funds in those accounts for tuition, or opening new accounts (new baby) and
  • funding other types of accounts or adding new ones (like IRAs or Roth IRAs) or
  • taking a new student loan or consolidating or
  • taking required distributions (from a 401k or IRA).

Include the tasks on your checklist and update the accounts on your net worth statement. Create this document initially then update or adapt it every year after or when you have a major event.

Plan to adapt, update these 6 tasks routinely:

  1. Make a copy of your credit cards, passport, licenses. In this age of identity theft, your card numbers may have changed during the year. So making an annual list saves time if a card is lost or stolen, or if you experience a data breach. Again, create your original list and then adapt or update every year after.
  2. Change your online passwords. When you get complacent, accidents happen. You should really change passwords more often, like monthly or quarterly. But….if you haven’t done it recently, change them now, especially for financial accounts! Too many to remember? Consider a password manager.
  3. Review your deductibles on insurance policies. Things change – cars depreciate, homes get improvements, kids get older, new purchases are made. So how you protect your assets should adapt too. Look over your insurance policies to see if you need to raise your deductibles (amount you cover in case of a claim) or increase coverage (what’s protected if you make a claim).
  4. Review contents of your safe deposit box, or rent one now at your bank or credit union. This is a safe place to store important papers, like wills, birth certificates, passports, real estate deeds/titles, and perhaps older stock certificates or savings bonds.
  5. Check financial accounts to update your beneficiaries. More often than you think, beneficiaries have changed names or are replaced. Make sure your accounts reflect new events in your life (marriages, divorces, kids turning 21, etc.).
  6. Check, update your paycheck withholding and/or estimated tax payments to avoid income tax penalties.

Financial tasks to put on auto-pilot

Then your next step is to automate, which makes it easier to stay on top of your finances as they become more complex. What tasks, if any, can you put on auto-pilot to simplify the coming year?

  • Auto-bill pay is especially helpful for constant amounts – monthly subscriptions, mortgages, utilities, loan repayments. You can typically set up payments either through your bank/credit union or through the supplier of the service.
  • Auto-deposit your paychecks, if you don’t already do it. Check with your employer to start.
  • Auto deductions from your paycheck can be made to your company’s 401k plan – to save painlessly for retirement.
  • Auto-save by split deposit – direct a set amount from each paycheck to your savings account rather than direct deposit your entire paycheck to a checking account.
  • Calendar reminders for payments to credit cards, tuition, student loans, estimated taxes, and to remind you to change passwords, fund accounts, spend FSA funds or do a mid-year or quarterly financial check.

Not sure what to keep or how long to stash it?

As your financial statements and receipts start piling up, you might want to know what you need to actually keep and what can be shredded. Here’s what some advisors recommend:

Keep these records for the calendar year:
• Bank statements
• Pay stubs (consider auto-pay direct to your bank account)
• Social Security benefits statements
• Investment/broker statements, including company 401(k) plans

Keep these for 7 years:
• Tax returns and supporting documents
• Bank statements and receipts needed to prove a deduction on a tax return

Keep these forever:
• Employer-defined benefit plan communications
• IRA contributions
• Brokerage statements (document gains/losses until sale)
• Life insurance policies (most recent copy)
• Loan documents (until paid and you have title)
• Home improvement records/receipts (keep 7 years after you sell the property)
• Savings bonds (can convert paper bonds to electronic)
• Safe deposit box inventory

Keep until you’ve reconciled your statement:
• Bank deposit slips
• Credit card receipts
• Monthly bills and credit card statements
(But keep those needed to prove tax deductions longer, see above)

 

 

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