Spring is in the air, which for many means waking up from hibernation and cleaning out the clutter. Don’t forget about clearing the cobwebs from your “financial house,” too! Even if you recently took a look at your finances as you prepared for tax season, here are five areas that could use your attention.
Dust off your credit report and score
If you’re concerned about identity theft or you’re planning to make a major purchase, you should know your credit score and what’s on your report. Businesses also inspect your credit history when evaluating applications for insurance, employment, and even leases. With so much on the line, it’s important to review your score for accuracy at least annually.
Fortunately, checking your credit report is easy. You’re entitled to one free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can request the report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Be wary of sites that charge you for these reports. If you use a credit monitoring service, be sure to check the terms of service.
Revamp your emergency fund
If you don’t have one already, starting an emergency fund should be on your spring cleaning to-do list. The size of your fund depends on your particular situation and other factors such as your family size, current debt, and insurance coverage. The standard is to set aside 3-6 months of expenses in case you or a family member encounters the unexpected, such as losing a job.
By planning ahead, the smaller emergencies (e.g., replacing a broken hot water heater) can be easily covered. Remember, it’s far better to have an emergency fund and never need it than to experience the reverse scenario.
Revisit credit cards
Review the terms and conditions of your credit cards to ensure they’re still in line with what you originally signed up for. It’s a good idea to contact your credit card providers every 18-24 months to see if you can negotiate a lower rate. If you have a good account history, they may be willing to drop your rate just by simply asking. Also consider whether another provider could offer you better deals or rewards than your current credit card company. But, keep in mind that transferring balances, opening new accounts, or closing long-standing accounts could negatively affect your credit score if you’re not careful.
If your home office is overflowing with statements and receipts, switching to paperless transactions is a pretty simple way to streamline your life—and help the environment. Besides minimizing desktop clutter, online financial management may offer access to tools that help you become more efficient and organized.
- Electronic bill payment. You can arrange online payments with your bank or through various service providers. Bills from public utilities, mortgage companies, and credit card companies often highlight the availability of this option.
- E-delivery of investment statements. I encourage you to sign up for electronic delivery of your account statements and trade confirmations. Going paperless is a simple, secure, and eco-friendly way to receive your documents.
- Online banking. Switching to electronic statements can conserve paper and save you time and trouble. You can track your balances in real time on your bank’s website and transfer funds from your desktop. At work, direct deposit of your paycheck not only saves paper but also cuts down on trips to the bank. It’s easy to set up with your employer and checks generally clear faster.
Do an overall financial review
Take the pulse of all your accounts regularly. This includes reviewing your insurance policies, annuity contracts, retirement plans, and educational savings accounts. Are you on track to achieve your goals? Do you need to make adjustments? Are your beneficiary designations up-to-date? Be sure to discuss any changes in your situation with your financial advisor so she can update your financial plan accordingly.
Although these financial spring cleaning to-dos may take a few hours, checking them off your list will free you up to enjoy the season—and ultimately save you time throughout the year. Let me know if I can help you feel more confident about your financial house.
This content originally appeared in the April issue of Hills & Castles magazine.