Dear Readers: Got spring fever? How about applying some of that energy to cleaning your financial house? Whether you just need to reorganize your records or do a thorough cleansing, this to-do list will help you make sure you’re finances are on track for the rest of the year.
Clear out your paperwork
Don’t be a paper packrat. Just like the clothes in your closet, you may be tempted to keep certain papers “just in case.” But there are definitely things you can toss or keep for a limited time, especially since much of this information is available online from the service providers. So go to the shredder and enjoy the process.
Here are some quick guidelines, but of course feel free to adjust depending on your own needs.
• Toss (Or shred: If you have a big stack of documents, check out a shredding service; some will even come to your home!)
–Credit card receipts after you receive your statement unless needed for tax, warranty, or insurance purposes or you anticipate a return
–Monthly credit card and bank statement, after you review (at the most keep the recent statement until you get the next, then toss)
–Monthly investment account statements unless needed to track buys or sells (see above)
–Paid bills unless needed for tax, warranty or insurance purposes
–ATM receipts after you match to your monthly or online statement
Keep one year
–Pay stubs that aren’t online (until you get your W-2)
–Medical bills (unless for tax purposes, in which case you should keep longer — see below)
Keep seven years
–Tax returns and supporting documents (including receipts for running your small business)
Keep until not needed
–Purchase agreement, title and receipts for capital improvements to your home until seven years after you sell
–Vehicle title and registration until you sell
–Loan documents until paid in full
–Insurance policies until no longer in force
–Defined benefit pension plan documents
–Warrantees for appliances and other big ticket items
Keep forever (in a fire-proof safe or safe-deposit box)
–Personal documents including birth certificate, marriage license, Social Security card, military papers and passport
–Estate planning documents, including your advance health care directive
–Photos and purchase information for valuable property
Once you’ve reduced your paperwork to the documents you really need, it should be easier to stay organized. You can reduce your clutter even more by scanning your documents and storing them as PDF files, backed up on a flash drive, external hard drive or cloud storage service.
Organize your accounts and passwords
With all the online accounts and passwords, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To help you stay on top of it all–and to make sure anyone who needs to can find the information–create a master list of your accounts and passwords, with phone numbers as needed. You can put this in a secure document with its own passcode.
Be sure to include EVERYTHING: credit cards, bank and investment accounts, online retail accounts, insurance policies, airline reward memberships, traveler IDs, club memberships, social media, magazines and newspapers, Social Security accounts, etc. While you’re at it, update and strengthen your passwords.
Simplify money in and money out
Whether you want to increase savings, control debt or simply be more efficient, make it easier by simplifying wherever possible. For instance:
–Use direct deposit if available for your pay, pension and Social Security benefits
–Set up automatic payments for recurring bills
–Consolidate brokerage accounts
–Set up automatic deposits to your savings and retirement accounts
De-clutter your credit cards — and your wallet
If your wallet is bulging with plastic, take a look at all your credit cards and trim down to the ones you really need on a regular basis. It’s ultimately safer, and may help you stay on top of how you’re using credit. Store unneeded cards in a safe place, but don’t close out the accounts unless you have good reason as it may negatively affect your credit score.
You can lighten your wallet a bit more by removing things you don’t need–and really shouldn’t be carrying–such as Social Security and Medicare cards.
Refocus on your phone apps
Apps are easy to get — and to forget. Are you paying ongoing fees for apps you don’t use? Cancel any “free” trials that you’ve signed up for and then decided you don’t really want.
Renegotiate your Internet and cable service
It’s easy to let inertia set in when it comes to Internet and cable fees. Take a look at the services you use and what you’re paying. Think it’s too high? Give the companies a call and (nicely!) renegotiate your plans.
Rethink, renew and recommit
These are all practical things you can easily do to polish up your everyday financial life and maybe even save a little money. But don’t forget the big picture. Use this season to rethink your long-term goals, especially saving for retirement. It’s also a perfect time to renew your financial promises to yourself and recommit to doing whatever it takes to make the rest of the year fulfilling and financially secure. Happy spring!
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ is president
of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “It Pays to Talk.” You can e-mail Carrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.