Organizing Your Finances FAQ
1. How do I get financially organized? Automate as much financial duties as you can—do direct deposit and online banking and set up online/automatic bill payments to avoid late fees. Check out free services like Mint.com and PersonalCapital that allow you to keep track of all of your accounts in one place. Also, only keep as many accounts as you need, and not more. Don’t be dragged into opening accounts just for coupons or bonuses. To avoid getting buried in paper, sign up for paperless billing and account statements, but make sure to have an email account where all of your notifications go, so you don’t lose track or miss a payment.
2. What are some things I can do to get and keep my financial house in order? As a recent grad, make sure you have a handle on any student loans you may have and when those payments will start. Make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities, and enroll in a payment plan that will work for your situation. You also need to understand your paycheck and employee benefits. This might be the first time you’ve had to file taxes, pay for insurance and can save for retirement. Another key to financial stability is to have a small amount of money set aside for emergencies. Even $1,000 can help avoid getting into trouble due to something unexpected.
3. How do I begin to budget? It’s time to get real with yourself and face the numbers. You need to know how much money is coming in and how much is going out. You need to know how much you owe and to whom, interest rates, payment terms, dates, etc. Excel spreadsheets can help you organize all of this, and plenty of home budgeting templates can be found by doing a quick Google search. Or use a budgeting apps like You Need a Budget (YNAB).
4. What about all those statements, receipts and other financial papers that pile up? What’s best to do with all those? Try to store as much electronically as possible. Keep anything tax-related for at least seven years. Most paper bank and credit card statements can be shredded once you verify that all the transactions are accurate and the balances are correct. Monthly bills can usually also be shredded or deleted once the next month’s bill comes and you’ve verified it’s correct. Or simply file it and keep it for the year. Find a system that works for you and stick to it. That way, bills don’t get missed because they’re buried in a pile and, when you need to access a particular statement, you’ll know where to find it.
5. Anything else I should know? A password management program like LastPass helps you keep track of all of your different online financial accounts and keep the passwords secure.
Top tips on being financially organized:
• Start with cash flow: Know how much is coming in and how much is going out for bills and spending.
• Set a budget and stick to it. Write it down or use an app to help.
• Know how much you owe in debt, who you owe it to, how long it will take to pay off, and what the interest rate is.
• Know your credit score and use the free website annualcreditreport.com to track your credit reports yearly.
• Have some money set aside for emergencies.
• Save for goals like retirement, travel, buying a house or buying a car in accounts that are meant for that purpose so that you can track your progress.
Source: Nannette L. Kamien (Gamma-DePauw), principal, Inspiration Financial Planning LLC, inspirationplanning.com