Spring is quickly approaching, so that means it’s time to give your house—including your financial house—a good spring cleaning! Getting your finances under control can help set the stage for a more successful time and fewer money worries in 2014.
Cleaning up your finances early in the year will also help you more quickly reach your financial goals—whether you want to save money, budget better, or just become better organized. With that in mind, take these seven steps to do some serious financial spring cleaning.
1. Review your credit report
To make sure your credit report is free of errors, get your credit report free of charge at AnnualCreditReport.com. Remember: you’re entitled to one free copy from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion every 12 months. So if you’ve not yet requested your credit reports in 2014, now is a perfect time.
Check your credit files to see if you have any accounts listed on there that aren’t yours, or if there are any other errors that could hurt your credit rating. Companies do make mistakes, and it’s your responsibility to make corrections when you catch them.
2. Shred old financial documents
If you’ve already filed your taxes, start organizing your tax records and getting rid of stuff you don’t need. Begin by sorting through old statements, pay stubs, bills and other financial records, and keep only the documents that are absolutely necessary.
The IRS generally has up to three years after you’ve filed a tax return to audit you. In cases where there were substantial errors—let’s say you under-reported your income by 25% or more—then the IRS can audit you going back six years. And in cases where there’s been fraudulent activity or you simply didn’t file taxes at all (both of which are huge no-nos!), there is no statute of limitations on the time when the IRS can audit you.
Bottom line: as long as you’re dealing truthfully with the IRS and only claiming legitimate deductions and credits, you don’t have to keep records for more than three, or six years, maximum. Everything else that’s tax-related can be shredded.
If you’re unsure about throwing away certain types of receipts, scan them or make a copy, then go ahead and shred! Reducing paper clutter can help you stay more organized and also put your mind at ease.
3. Record your financial passwords and store in a safe place
Cleaning up your finances early in the year will also help you more quickly reach your financial goals—whether you want to save money, budget better, or just become better organized.
You’ve heard about all the recent data breaches at places like Target, Michaels and Neiman Marcus, right? Well, do your part to help identity thieves and cyber crooks.
Make sure you’re not using the same password and login information for all of your online bank accounts and other financial accounts.
Even though you might be logging in over a secure Internet connection, there’s still a risk that someone who figures out your password will attempt to access other accounts with the same login information. Protect yourself against identity theft by logging your financial passwords in a document and storing it in a safe place.
4. Review your budget
Is your budget up to date, or have you forgotten to make changes when you had an increase or decrease in income?
Take a close look at your budget and see if you need to make any modifications. Make sure you’re reporting expenses accurately and have made some room for savings account contributions.
5. Tally up outstanding credit card and loan balances
What does your current debt load look like? Spring is a good time to look at your total outstanding debts and see which loans or credit cards you could pay off entirely this year.
Create a debt payoff plan and make the necessary changes to your budget. This is also a good time to check your credit limits.
6. Set up automatic bill pay
Spring cleaning isn’t only about de-cluttering; it’s also about making things more efficient.
Set up automatic bill pay and link it to your primary checking account. Automatic bill pay will eliminate the chances of missing a payment and paying those pesky late fees.
7. Pay off holiday debt once and for all
Clear up your credit lines and pay off the purchases you made over the holiday season. Put yourself on a stricter debt payoff plan specifically to pay off the debt you accumulated over the holidays. Cleaning up this debt quickly can put you in a much better financial position for the rest of the year.
In fact, making all of these seven moves to spring clean your finances will help you breathe easier for the rest of 2014 and beyond.