Simplify and reduce your money ‘clutter’
Professional organizers might define household clutter as a pile of unmade decisions. Money clutter is much the same.
Those credit cards you no longer use but haven’t closed? That’s money clutter. So is the retirement account you left behind three jobs ago, and the financial paperwork you keep but no longer need.
You can simplify your financial life by streamlining how you manage your money. Here are five ways:
The more financial accounts you have to monitor, the more stress you’re likely to feel, said Chicago financial planner Sheila Padden, president of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. It’s too easy to lose track of an account, miss a due date, or fail to notice a fraudulent transaction.
“Like any machinery, if there’s a lot of moving parts, then it’s more likely to break down,” Padden said.
One relatively easy way to consolidate is to combine workplace retirement accounts. You may be able to transfer old 401(k) accounts to your new employer’s plan, for example, or roll them into a single individual retirement account (IRA).
Closing unused credit cards is another task worth considering, although shuttering accounts may ding your credit scores.
Minimize potential damage by hanging on to your oldest and highest-limit cards. If you have multiple cards with the same issuer, ask whether the credit limit on a card you want to close can be reallocated to one you want to keep.
And don’t close cards if you’re about to apply for a major loan, such as a mortgage or an auto loan. [See “Your credit score affects mortgage, more,” in the June Beacon.]
Get it all on one page
Budgeting apps allow you to link your bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts so you can view all your transactions in one place. [Free options include Mint.com and Goodbudget.com.] Your bank may offer a similar feature that allows you to link accounts.
Learning how to use these tools takes a little time, but getting this overview can help you better manage your money without having to log in to multiple accounts, said Pamela Ladd, senior manager of personal financial planning at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.
“You can get a really good snapshot of your finances in one place,” Ladd said.
Automate what you can
Automating bill payments with online bill-pay services can help you avoid late fees and damage to your credit scores from missed payments. Start with bills that stay consistent, such as your mortgage or auto loan.
Where automating really shines is with saving, Padden said. She recommends figuring out how much you need to save for your goals, such as retirement or an emergency fund, and then automating regular contributions.
Reduce paper clutter
Ladd admits she was a latecomer to the digital world and didn’t switch to paperless statements and bills until a few years ago.
Now she relies on email reminders to check her monthly bills, rather than receiving a paper “trigger” in the mail.
Financial institutions typically store statements for six or more years, so she doesn’t have to deal with filing or shredding paperwork. She finds the change “liberating.”
“It’s less clutter, one less thing to do,” Ladd said.
Most paperwork from the past can be safely scanned or downloaded into a computer — as long as its hard drive is backed up regularly. You can search online for lists of when to shred existing paperwork or ask a tax pro or financial planner for guidance.
Consider hiring help
Padden said she understands the urge to do it all yourself. As a certified public accountant, she felt she should be able to handle her own finances, but eventually realized she didn’t know enough to do so successfully.
Padden’s response to this revelation was to study for and obtain a certified financial planner credential and open her own financial planning practice. She recommends that others consider hiring the help they need if they can.
A tax pro can file your returns and answer tax questions. An accredited financial counselor or financial coach can assist with budgeting, debt management, retirement savings and more. A financial planner can help with virtually every aspect of your finances.
Hiring help can give you the personalized information you need to make decisions and stress less. Ultimately, that’s what simplifying your financial life is all about.
“If you feel like you’ve always got things that need attending to, you really cannot live your most fulfilled life and live with ease,” Padden said.