With the weather warming up, spring fever is starting to set in with my household. As I am thinking about the changing seasons, one of the things that come to mind for this financial planner is several ways to begin some financial spring cleaning.
I want to share three tips with you that may help you do a little financial spring cleaning and organization.
As we go through life, most of us accumulate things that we may no longer use or need, including almost forgotten accounts from banks that we opened years ago. Or, you may have online accounts with institutions you opened for a better interest rate. Often, we accrue this kind-of "junk drawer" of accounts, many of which have minimal balances, some we don't even use anymore.
Having multiple accounts often means it is difficult to remember the correct tax forms. It can also be hard to download the proper statements to give accurate information to your CPA. So, ultimately, there is more chance for financial leakage. Maybe that means income getting lost, transferred, or not captured or the risk for people to hack in and steal your account details, assets, or information.
You can use this time as an opportunity to close accounts that you no longer use. Then, transfer any remaining balances from the unused accounts and consolidate so you have accounts with no more than one or two institutions. This makes it easier to track and move money around if needed.
Everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report. You can download it through FreeCreditReport.com as well as in other places. When you review this report, it will show a list of all the places you have ever applied for credit and whether the accounts are still open or closed.
You will want to look for open lines of credit that you no longer need or use. If you happen to find any, a smart next step is to contact those institutions and ask them to close that line of credit. Once you do that, it becomes one less place where hackers can steal your identity or information, leading to your credit score becoming impaired.
The third idea includes a little actual cleaning, as it has to do with going through any old files, tax returns, financial statements, and warranties, taking up space in your home office, and converting them to electronic files.
I did this a couple of years ago, after becoming frustrated because we had new garage door openers installed, and the company had given us yet another warranty. As I went to my file drawer and began flipping through warranties to file it, I found old ones from appliances that we don't even have anymore, as well as more important documents like the appraisal for my wife's wedding ring. I suddenly realized just how disorganized it all was.
My solution was to set up an online cloud storage account. These days, there are many to choose from, including some better-known ones, like Dropbox, Microsoft's One Drive, or Google Drive. First, I created electronic folders and categories of items that you have in paper copy. For example, you may want to establish a folder for tax returns, real estate closings, and appraisals, warranties, home purchases, auto, basically anything you think you need or want to track or hold on to safely.
After you establish and set up the categories, you will need a scanner to make those files electronic. I went to Amazon and was able to purchase a fairly inexpensive, high-speed, double-sided scanner. For me, it was essential to find a model that could handle 30-40 pages at once so that I could put my entire tax return in there and have it scan the whole document. Then it is only a matter of scanning your records over the course of a weekend or a couple of days, labeling them, and adding them into the proper folder.
Once you scan and file your electronic documents, you don't need to retain all that paperwork. However, you want to shred it and not just throw it away. The benefit of doing this is you have access to your important files and documents, which can be a beast to keep track of, from the phone in your hand.
The IRS recommends keeping at least three years' worth of tax returns and the supporting documents. So, make sure if it's within the last three years, you also scan the supporting documentation. For older returns, it is not necessary to scan the supporting documents, like the charitable giving receipts and mortgage 1098 statements.
It always feels good to clean up and perhaps even simplify your financial life, when you can. Keeping your finances clean all year can help remove the stress when tax time rolls around, or you are looking for that important financial document. So, this year, don't just focus on cleaning up your home — spring clean your finances while you're at it.
If you need additional assistance organizing your finances and planning for the future, please connect with one of our financial planners. Determining the right path for you can seem overwhelming at first - remember, you don't have to go at it alone. Spaugh Dameron Tenny is here to support and guide you.
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