Since spring has sprung we are taking every opportunity to open our windows and let the fresh air in. Most of us start cleaning out the garage, clean off the outdoor furniture and pack up our old clothes to donate to charity. Why should spring cleaning end with your home? This is the perfect time to tidy up your personal finances as well. Consider these recommendations to “clean” up your finances.
Contribute to your 401(k). Make sure you contribute enough to your 401(k) to qualify for maximum matching funds. Your employer is willing to give you this free money so don’t leave it on the table.
Open and IRA. If you own your own business or work for a company with no retirement plan, open an IRA. You can get big tax breaks from opening this type of retirement plan. If you don’t know which IRA is right for you, you can search “Types of Retirement Plans” at irs.gov.
Rate check your credit cards. The interest rates on your credit cards can have an impact on your balances and have the potential of adding up over time. If your interest rate is increasing your card balances, it’s time to shop around to find a lower rate. Other items that are options for rate checks are mortgage loans, auto loans and even your checking and savings accounts. For a real feeling of gratification, pay off the balance that costs you the high interest. If you want to zero our your balance by the end of the year, divide the amount owed by 7 and pay that amount every month. Can’t bite off that much every month? Move the balance to another card with an introductory rate and pay it off before the deal runs out. Make sure there are no high transfer fees.
Open a savings account. Follow these three steps when opening your savings account:
1. Set a financial goal and timeline.
2. Decide how much to save each month to help you reach your goal.
3. Setup automatic transfers into your savings plan from your checking account. This way the transfer is done for you and you won’t miss the money.
Review your credit report. Make sure your credit reports are free of mistakes. Remember, you are able to order one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can get one free of charge from annualcreditreport.com.
Organize or discard old financial documents. Sort through all your bank statements, invoices, bills and other financial records and keep those that are only necessary. Be aware you need to keep tax returns, canceled checks, receipts and any supporting paperwork for your taxes for at least six years. Make sure you don’t just trash your important documents in the trash without shredding them. You don’t want them to be picked up by an identity thief.
Set up automatic bill pay. Spring-cleaning just isn’t about de-cluttering. It’s about making your financial life more efficient. Set up automatic bill pay and link it to your checking account in an effort to eliminate any chance of missing a payment and paying late fees.
Review your budget. Take a close look at your current budget and decide if you need to make any changes.
Pay off as much debt as possible. Spring is a good time to review your outstanding debts and which loans or credit cards you could pay off. If nothing else, develop a stricter payoff plan. Cleaning up your outstanding debt quickly will put you in a much better financial position for the rest of the year.
Record your financial passwords and store all your records in a secure place. Make sure you’re not using the same password for all your financial accounts. Protect yourself against identity theft by protecting your passwords and other financial documents in an online secure vault.
Be a community steward. Try and make a difference in your community. Believe it or not, giving of yourself to others will make you feel a lot wealthier.