As April rolls around, most of us think about doing some spring cleaning in our homes. Plus with tax time here, money is also on our minds.
So instead of only clearing out cobwebs and having the carpets cleaned, how about doing some financial spring cleaning this month, too?
"Actually, this is an especially good time of year to do a little financial ‘spring cleaning’. That’s because the information you got together to file your income tax statement is still handy and fresh on your mind," Dena Wise, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Family Economics Specialist with the University of Tennessee Extension, tells Synergy.
Here are 10 financial "spring cleaning" tasks that can help freshen up your personal money management strategies:
- Complete an annual net worth statement. Your net worth is simply the sum of all your assets minus all your liabilities. "It’s important to see if your net worth is growing from year to year and that you’re actually building wealth through savings, home equity, investments, and other assets for a secure financial future and retirement," Dr. Wise explains.
- Get a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Check it for accuracy and contact the credit reporting agency with any corrections. Dr. Wise also suggests coming up with a schedule for closing inactive accounts, one by one, over the year.
- Getting a federal income tax refund? Put away a portion in emergency savings. "Having funds to deal with life’s unexpected events and expenses allows you to remain in financial control when they (inevitably) arise," Dr. Wise advises.
- Review your insurance policies. Check to see if you need to increase or reduce coverage or change beneficiaries.
- Review your will and estate plans to see if changes are needed. Don’t forget to make sure the appropriate people (attorneys, trustees, or executors) know where to find the most recent copies of these important documents, Dr. Wise says.
- Destroy any financial records you don’t need to save. You can find a good guide for what to keep and what to get rid of at http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/how-long-to-keep-financial-records.aspx. A word of caution: simply throwing old financial records in the garbage is a bad idea that could lead to identity theft. According to Dr. Wise, shredding or burning is the best way to destroy financial records you no longer need.
- Organize your financial records. Take the time to make copies of these documents, too, and store your duplicates in a location away from your home in a safety deposit box. In case of a natural disaster, fire, or some other reason you need to evacuate your home, you’ll be able to access crucial financial information. For other pointers on keeping financial and other important papers organized and secure, visit eXtension, an online educational partnership of 74 universities: http://www.extension.org/pages/14317/organize-your-important-household-papers:-introduction.
- Review the allocation of your 401(k) funds and other investments. This is especially important if you haven’t paid regular attention to your savings and investments in a while. "HR managers tell us that you wouldn’t believe how many former employees ‘abandon’ their 401(k) funds by not rolling them over into accounts at their new jobs or by not keeping addresses current to receive correspondence. If you have 401(k) accounts with a number of prior employers, now’s a good time to consolidate them," Dr. Wise says. "Your current 401(k) fund representative will be happy to help you do this."
- Make a schedule for paying off your debts. Knowing exactly how and when you’ll be able to pay off credit cards and other loans reassures you there’s light at the end of the debt tunnel. "It helps keep you motivated, through thick and thin, to stick to your budget," Dr. Wise adds.
- Come up with a systematic plan for taking care of financial tasks. You may want to designate a time and set up a place for paying bills, or you may want to make bill-paying and savings easier through automatic withdrawal. Automatic payments may be great for you if you always have enough funds in your bank account to cover every payment as it comes through – especially if you travel a lot or have a very busy work schedule and don’t have a routine time when paying bills is always convenient.
"On the other hand, if you tend to keep a low account balance, you probably shouldn’t schedule automated payments. They can too easily cause expensive overdrafts if you forget the funds are being withdrawn," Dr. Wise explains. "Another reason for keeping automatic withdrawals to a minimum: the more separate organizations that have access to your account, the greater the possibility for fraudulent activity or unauthorized withdrawals."