Millions of Americans, even those who are in their retirement years, have only a poor grasp of their finances. They do not know about the many financial instruments available to them on the open market. Many do not even have a dollar saved for retirement. It takes years to build up good financial habits. However, one easy step that every American can take is financial spring cleaning. Financial spring cleaning helps people understand and then make the most of their finances during a designated period every year.
Here are four steps to begin your financial cleaning in 2020…
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Know what you have
The first step of financial spring cleaning is to bring all of an individual’s assets and debts together. This task may be no small burden. In order to do this, an individual should pull together the account balances and financial statements that make up their financial lives. These statements may include every credit card and bill to pay as well. In addition to simple balances, display all of the fees and interest rates that they pay on these accounts.
This effort leads to the next step in the financial spring cleaning process. They may want to cancel credit cards with high monthly fees. Checking or savings accounts that charge high fees should also be reviewed and possibly cancelled so that those funds can be transferred into low-fee accounts. The process for these account changes can be tedious and cumbersome. As a result, it’s important to come up with a step-by-step plan to handle each problematic account.
For those accounts and debts that cannot easily be handled with a trip to the bank, financial spring cleaning can involve a plan to pay off any debts that an individual may have. It is helpful to restart the process of debt payment and arrangement every year since new debts may have been accumulated throughout the year. The best way to pay off debts is to arrange them by their interest rate. Families may want to shift payments to where they are putting as much money as possible towards the debt with the highest interest rate and then only paying the minimum payment on all of the other debts. Then, once the debt with the highest interest rate has been paid off, the individual or family moves on to the next debt and the debt after that until all debts are paid off.
The next step is to look at goals. Financial investment and savings should always be oriented towards goals. Simply throwing money into an account will break down the moment a severe expense pops up. One suggestion is to make savings goals and then devise plans to achieve these goals. While goals need to be specific numbers, they should not be immutable or unchanging. People need to be able to shift their goals based on major expenses, changes in salaries, or other contributing factors. Financial spring cleaning is a perfect time during the year to adjust different goals. It often occurs several months after a January raise or bonus and right around the time of a tax refund.
Finally, individuals need to reevaluate their holdings and where exactly their money is. When they bring all of their funds together, they will learn how much money they have in stocks, bonds, and other types of accounts. They will also be able to easily view the performance of those assets over time. Each website for accounts has graphs and charts that allow an individual to view their own progress. Financial spring cleaning is a great time to analyze the percentages of their funds that they have in each asset class. In some instances, an individual may have their money in an asset class that will most likely lose money in the short-term or the long-term.
They may determine that they have too much risk or not enough to meet their goals. This is especially the case for people who are about to retire and have too much risk. They need to start tapping into the money in the near future and cannot withstand an unexpected drop in the stock or bond market of several percentage points. In those cases, they can use this time of reflection to shift their holdings around to different asset classes. This effort can be helpful in reaching the goals established earlier in the spring cleaning process.
Financial spring cleaning is a time for pause and reflection of an individual’s assets. It may not ensure that a person can immediately work their way out of debt or secure enough money for a comfortable retirement. However, it is critical for making money over the long-term and for reducing any confusion or inefficiency in an individual’s portfolio. Whether individuals have a large amount of money or almost nothing at all, everyone should at least consider a yearly financial spring cleaning.