In previous articles, we discussed financial tasks to do daily, weekly and monthly to help organize and keep track of your money. Once you are on track monthly, review tasks to do on an annual basis.
- look at your credit card and bank statements with a critical eye
- review the budget
- obtain and review your credit reports
- look back at your debt picture
- check flexible spending account (FSA) balances
- assume you are getting the best insurance coverage
- just toss papers into the trash
- go overboard with getting rid of paper
- keep using the same passwords
- let junk mail get to you
Determine your recurring charges, and decide if you are still using those services or if better alternatives now exist. For instance, maybe you can cancel the cable TV subscription in favor of Netflix or the Internet, eliminate your landline, or cancel a gym membership you rarely use. Apply the funds you save to credit card or student loan debt, or to bolstering emergency fund or retirement savings.
It’s important to do an annual review and make adjustments. And if you’d don’t have a budget, now is the time to create and learn to use a simple one. Each year, re-evaluate your goals and re-align the budget to meet those goals. Your goals might range from taking a vacation next summer to having time to train for a marathon to saving for retirement. Keep those goals top of mind and you’ll find budgeting to be much easier.
Everyone can obtain a copy of his or her report from each of the three major credit report bureaus (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). You can get a copy of each credit report once a year—for free. Reviewing your reports can help you detect identity theft, or errors that damage your credit. Once you have viewed your reports, you can correct any errors immediately online.
Is it better or worse than a year ago? Have you paid off debt, or added to it? If your balances are headed in the wrong direction, make a solid plan to repay your debt. If you can’t pay off your debt on your own, talk with a credible debt relief company about options that could include debt negotiation, credit counseling, or consolidating your debt with an online lender.
If you don’t use your balance, you cannot roll it over to the next calendar year. For those with FSAs, evaluate where you are and keep an eye on how to use the funds smartly. Many kinds of products and services apply, ranging from prescription and over-the- counter medications to day-care and elder-care expenses. Even purchases of hand sanitizer and sunscreen can apply. Get a full list and learn more about FSA-qualifying expenses.
It can be wise to check and make sure you are getting the best auto and homeowner’s (or renter’s) coverage and rates. Thanks to the Internet, it can be easy and fast to compare quotes online, and ask brokers to follow up when it is convenient for you. It’s also a good idea to review any additional insurance needs. Consider valuables you may have acquired or inherited, and evaluate your life insurance.
Many people clean out paperwork at the end of the year. While this can be an excellent organizational task to undertake, be careful with what you do with those papers. Make sure to shred anything with your account number, name or address to protect your identity. When possible, consider scanning important documents and storing them in an electronic file instead of keeping paper copies.
While organizing and shredding, there are some documents you should keep forever. These include: birth, marriage and death certificates; divorce decrees; wills; Social Security cards; and military discharge papers. Keep vehicle titles, home loan documents and insurance policies as long as they are valid.
Change passwords for financial accounts if you have not done so recently. Close accounts that you no longer use. Make sure an up-to- date list of accounts is available for your loved ones, and tell them where it is, in case of emergency. Manage passwords for online accounts on paper or in an online vault for security.
Visit Direct Marketing Association to opt out of most catalogs. You also can call the number on any catalogs you receive to unsubscribe. Change your financial documents to secure online communications, so you never have sensitive information sitting in the mailbox, vulnerable to thieves.
Most people know that tax preparation comes once a year. But it can be easy to get caught up in that and forget about other necessary tasks. Taking time for a few other annual tasks will help you avoid debt, and help you continue toward true financial freedom.