We recently held our annual “ShredIt” event and invited our clients to bring in any old documents that needed shredding. It was our seventh annual event like this, and this year’s was just as well received. This event got me thinking of tax season and I asked myself, “Is there anything I need to change or clean out?” Financially, that is. After taking a closer look at my own financial life, here are my 5 things you should do right now to clean house.
1. Check your credit report
We all see and hear the dreadful “free credit report” ads constantly. Most of them are not actually free, and there is usually a hitch somewhere. Well, I know one where it really is free and there is no hitch. Uncle Sam gives each of us one free credit report from each of the three major agencies once a year. Here is the site you can visit: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This is something I do once a year to make sure my credit is in good order and no one has tried to assume my identity with a new credit card. It takes about 15 minutes or so to go down the list of each one to make sure all is well. You’d be surprised how far back they go and to what detail. I haven’t found anything fishy in a while, but about a year ago, one agency had an old car loan that said it was still open. Another time an old credit card was still open when I had canceled it. The card had a zero balance, but it’s not something you want open if, in fact, it was supposed to be closed. Things like this you want to be sure to sort out and get corrected. Mark the date you ran the reports, and make sure you go back next year for your free review. I use my birthday so it’s easier for me to remember.
2. Go paperless
Going paperless will certainly help with the over accumulation of statements around the home. Some banks and brokerages are starting to charge for mailing paper statements, and I expect that more will follow. Right now I get all my monthly utility bills, mortgage and bank statements electronically. At this point most of the snail mail I get is junk, which goes right to the recycle bin. You’ll reduce lots of clutter and any “lost” bills that might have gotten tossed in the trash by mistake. I also encourage you to try and pay all your bills electronically. Lots of banks will reduce or eliminate some of your checking/banking account fees when you pay electronically. Also, most of your utility vendors will allow you to pay electronically direct with them. One of the reasons I love this is I can just log on and see all of my monthly payments, not the old school way of flipping through pages of my checkbook trying to decipher my chicken scratch on that tiny line. Hey, maybe you do end up saving a tree or two. Once you do this you shouldn’t have to go back once a year and check. One and done!
3. Consolidate accounts
If you have a lot of smaller bank accounts scattered across a variety of banks, try to combine them. As most of you know, banks are charging more and more fees here and there for almost anything that was once free. So, this step will probably save you a bit of money and make things way easier in the clutter and confusion department. Additionally, quite a few banks will reduce or eliminate your fees when you go over a specific balance. Unless you are over the FDIC limit, I see no real reason to be diversified with your bank. In fact, this may be a good time to shop for a better bank or credit union. The same advice applies for any and all old 401k, 403b or IRA accounts you have floating out there. You could save on fees and have less confusion trying to figure out what you have out there. You will have less vendors to deal with at tax time too. Keep in mind that you can diversify your investments and keep them at the one or two custodians. This is a step that hopefully you won’t have to do once a year.
4. Check your beneficiaries
Did you get married, divorced, or have a major life change? Maybe or maybe not, but either way go ahead and double check all of your accounts and insurance policies to make sure they have the right information. When we pass, we certainly don’t want any proceeds of any amounts going to the wrong person or charity. Good for them, bad for us. Unless something changes dramatically, we won’t be able to say “Hey, wait! That’s the wrong beneficiary!” So, just go ahead and get it done.
5. Shop for better rates
I just noticed the other day that my bank is now offering a much lower rate for new and used cars. Are you paying a high rate on your auto loan? If you are, check some credit unions and banks- see what they offer and you may save some money by moving the loan. Of course, be careful of any hidden fees and I don’t suggest you extend the term of the loan. If you have a loan of $20,000 with 2 years left at 4%, you might look at the other bank’s loan at 1.5%, but keep the 2 year term- this will give you a decent savings. I just changed my cell phone plan and saved about $30 a month. With all the different features and plans for today’s smart phones, it’s smart to shop around or talk to your current provider about a better rate and plan. What about your cable or satellite plan? Are you still watching HBO and Showtime? Do you really use Netflix that often? Sometimes cable vendors will work with you a better pricing for current clients. Hey, it’s free to call and ask.
These are just 5 quick tips I thought of. There are certainly more ways to “clean” your financial home. So, get cleaning and Happy Spring!
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