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Spring Cleaning Your Finances Isn’t Hard — 6 Ways To Clean Things Up Today

Jean Chatzky  |  April 25, 2019

How long has it been since you gave your accounts a deep clean? These six steps will help you get back on track for 2019 in just a few hours.

The majority of Americans are planning to tidy our little Marie Kondo-hearts out this spring, with the annual rite of spring cleaning, according to a survey from the American Cleaning Institute.  While most of us will engage in light cleaning overall, some of us are also planning to deep clean the bathroom (46%), kitchen (36%), living room (14%), and bedroom (7%). It’s wonderful that we can hone in on one area of our lives that need a clean-up, and take care of business — but have you ever thought of giving your finances a similar once-over?  

Not only can a financial deep-clean help you save and get your money goals back on track (particularly if they slipped around the holidays last year), it can also help you prevent a late payment on a bill (thus saving fees you might have incurred) and help you avoid losing items that you may have to spend hours looking for (which costs time, an even rarer commodity than money).

A financial deep-clean help you save and get your money goals back on track, it can also help you prevent a late payment on a bill and help you avoid losing items that you may have to spend hours looking for

Scouring your finances and getting all your accounts in order can even help prevent your falling victim to identity theft, which costs headaches galore for the 16 million people who go through it each year. How? During a clean-up, you can update passwords on any old accounts, move any old retirement accounts that may be lingering unattended into a single one that you can keep an eye on, and go paperless so there are less opportunities for thieves to raid your mail. Not only that, a financial spring clean can help you de-stress — seriously. According to research from UCLA, clutter has been proven to cause a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, and memory problems. Here’s what you need to do to cut the clutter and get back on track for 2019.

Pare Down The Paper

One of the most popular articles we’ve ever published at HerMoney is on what documents you need to save, to keep and to toss come tax time.  Here’s the abridged version: Keep receipts until you get the monthly statement, keep credit card/bank/brokerage statements until you get the year-end summary, and hang onto insurance policies until you get new ones. Keep anything tax-related for three years (and anything related to taxes where you took a loss for seven). Keep paperwork relating to assets (homes, cars, investments) as long as you have those assets. And keep Social Security Cards, birth, marriage and divorce certificates and estate planning documents forever, preferably in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. But you also want to digitize and store copies of those docs online – you can store them in dropbox, or your brokerage firm may also have a digital safe. (Scans aren’t legal documents, but they can make it easier to request copies of the originals if they’re lost or damaged.)   Finally, as soon as you’re done with a document, shred it.

Clean All Of Your Desktops

If your desk is in the kitchen or another high-traffic area of your house, make sure that you don’t have any personal information (like birthdays, a mother’s maiden name, or a social security number) lying around visible, or unsecured in any way. Although we never like to think that we would invite people into our home who would steal our identity, it’s best to play it safe. Also, in the event of a break-in, you don’t want short-term losses turning into a years-long battle to reclaim your identity.  So, file away any sensitive documents you need, and shred the ones you don’t.

Also, don’t neglect your computer desktop, or your phone’s hard drive, either. Start by making sure you install updates as they’re offered, to get access to the latest security measures. Delete any files and apps you’re no longer using, and while you’re on your devices, scrub your social media presence to get rid of any identifying personal info – pets’ names, birthdays, or even the fact that you’re planning on taking a vacation. It all helps keep your finances safer.

Simplify Your Maze of Accounts

The average career professional will change jobs 12 times during their working years. Add that to the fact that many of us also have side gigs and freelance income, and before long, we’re looking at a complicated roster of accounts. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that every leg of your working journey will result in a separate retirement account. (You already know not to withdraw the money when you change jobs – you’ll have to pay income taxes and a 10% penalty unless you’re 59 ½ or older. ) What you should do, though, is roll all of those accounts into an IRA or into your new employer’s plan. Personally, I like being able to sign into a single portal or two to look at my investments. This way I never have trouble keeping things straight, knowing where I stand, and making sure I have the right amount in stocks, bonds or cash.

Put Your Whole Financial Life Into One Picture

Once you’ve consolidated your investment accounts, download a budgeting app or hop on a website like Mint or Personal Capital or YouNeedABudget (which isn’t free, but has vociferous fans among the members of our private HerMoney Facebook group — join HERE) where you can track it all in one place. This way not only can you view your investments, but also bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, mortgages, personal loans, auto loans, retirement accounts and more. Granted, it may be a little overwhelming to see the full picture for the first time, but it’s also empowering in the way that it allows you take the reins of your financial life, and see what may be holding you back.  

Save Some Money – And Make Some

While we’re tidying, let’s take a look at any subscriptions that may have been lingering on your credit card for months, without you really using or enjoying them. Are there subscriptions you no longer use?  Cancel them. Then, take the spoils of the rest of your spring cleaning – the clothes you’re no longer wearing, the furniture your children have outgrown, etc. – and sell them online. Take a look at 2019’s five best platforms to get the most money for your unwanted stuff.

ICE It

ICE, as you may know from storing an emergency contact in your cell phone, stands for In Case of Emergency. While it’s handy on the phone, it can be even more important to keep on your computer desktop, where it can contain a detailed roadmap for a loved one to follow in the event that something happens to you.  In it, you should include names and numbers for your trusted professionals (lawyers, financial planners) as well as your bank account details and online passwords. Any account that someone would need to have access to in case of emergency — including your social media profiles — should be included in your ICE document. Also, make sure to note the physical location of your will and other legal papers.

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