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If there is one area of your life that must be organized, it’s your personal finances. And it’s easier than you think with these 11 ways to organize your personal finances.
It can be annoying when things like your books, your closets, or your garage are unorganized. But if your personal finances are unorganized, there can be serious consequences. You might be late paying a utility bill and have your water or electricity cut off.
You might forget to pay your credit card bills which means you’ll be charged late fees and likely lower your credit score.
If you don’t remember to file your taxes on time, you’ll face a 5% penalty of your unpaid tax amount for every month you fail to file, up to 25% of what you owe.
If you file more than 60 days past the deadline, you’ll pay $135 or 100% of the amount you owe, whichever is less.
If you file but don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be charged 0.5% of your unpaid tax amount for every month you fail to file, up to 25%. Interest is accruing on the unpaid amount too.
Being disorganized can cost you money so let’s organize your personal finances.
1. Eliminate Paper
Paper has a tendency to pile up, to get lost, and to accidentally be thrown away so the first step in organizing your personal finances is to eliminate as much paper as you can.
I don’t have a single bill or statement that is mailed to me as a hard copy, not one. My rent, student loan, credit cards, utilities, health insurance premiums and explanations of benefits, renter’s insurance, and bank and investment statements all come to me online. I can log into each company’s websites to see bills and statements.
If you’re still receiving paper copies of bills or statements, sign up for paperless.
You might even be paying for those paper statements and not realize it! Banks are notorious for these and among the many fees, they charge customers is often a fee for having a paper statement mailed to you rather than opting for online statements.
If you do have papers relating to your personal finances that you can’t or don’t feel comfortable receiving digitally, you still don’t have to keep pages of paper hanging around.
You can scan them and save them on your computer or even just photograph them with your phone if you don’t have a scanner.
2. Keep It Together
If you do have bills that must be sent on paper or that you prefer to have as hard copies, keep them all in one place. Don’t toss them into a pile with your other mail, most of which is probably junk mail.
Sensitive financial papers like those relating to your mortgage or any other property you may own, usernames and passwords to financial accounts, or documentation of your belongings that you made for insurance purposes, should be kept off-site.
If your home were to catch fire or suffer damage from a natural disaster, you want to make sure these documents aren’t destroyed.
I don’t even feel comfortable keeping these things at home in a waterproof, fireproof safe. I live in New Orleans so if there were to be another Katrina, a safe could just float away.
You should have copies of these documents at home in a safe place but also in a safety deposit box in a bank.
I’m actually so paranoid about the possibility of New Orleans suffering another catastrophic flood, I keep copies of these things in my parent’s safe too which is in another state.
The street in front of my local bank floods with a good afternoon thunderstorm so if the levees were to break again, I wouldn’t even trust the safety deposit box to remain dry.
Unless you live in a natural disaster-prone area too, a safety deposit box is probably good enough.
3. Tax Time
Waiting until the last minute to get everything you need to do your taxes organized is not only stressful but can cause you to miss the filing deadline and we showed you in the opener how much that can cost you.
The only good thing about tax time is that it comes almost the same day each year so it’s never a surprise.
Employers are required to send out employee W-2 forms by the end of January so if you haven’t received yours by early February, contact your human resources department. If you’re an independent contractor, you should get a 1099-MISC form.
If you work for yourself, it takes a little more effort to get organized. Gather any receipts and documents for business-related expenses.
If you’ve earned interest over the year, you’ll need a 1099-INT form. For stocks and mutual funds, a 1099-DIV form. Interest paid on a mortgage or student loan is tax deductible so you’ll need a 1098 form for those.
If you’ve made charitable donations, get a receipt from the entity you donated to, the donation is tax deductible if your gift was $250 or more.
Whether you do your own taxes with software like Turbo Tax or have them done by a tax preparer, having all of this information will make the job easier.
Do you have multiple bank accounts, old 401ks from previous jobs, and seventeen credit cards? You’re making life more complicated than it has to be.
When you have all of these different accounts to keep track of, it makes it harder to organize your personal finances.
You only need one checking account and one savings account. Having more than one of each makes your money harder to keep track of and each account might be costing you money in fees.
The only exception is if you have more than $250,000 in an account (and you should never leave that much cash sitting in low yield checking or savings accounts but that’s an issue for a different article).
Bank accounts are only FDIC insured for up to $250,000.
If you do choose to keep more than $250,000 in a checking or savings account and that’s the reason you have multiple accounts, at least keep the money in the same bank.
The $250,000 limit applies to each account so you could have ten different accounts with that much in a single bank and each account would still be FDIC insured.
If you have old 401ks, not only are they harder to keep track of, you may be charged additional fees because your account is still being managed but you’re no longer an employee.
If your new employer offers a 401k, you may be able to roll your old account into the new one. If not, you can roll it over into an IRA.
Just be sure not to take the cash out option, if you do, you’ll be hit with the penalty for withdrawing before age 59 1/2 and you’ll incur taxes on the amount you withdraw as well.
The issue of having a lot of credit cards is a little trickier. There’s no question that having multiple credit cards makes it harder to organize your personal finances but closing some of the accounts will hurt your credit score.
Three components of your credit score include the age of your accounts, available credit, and usage. If you close a credit card that you’ve had open for many years, you shorten the age of your accounts.
If you close even one card, you have less credit available and doing so increases your usage percentage.
If you do want to close some accounts, be sure not to close the card you’ve had the longest. Call the cards you plan to keep and ask for a credit increase.
This can mitigate the effects of losing available credit and increasing usage percentage.
And finally, while it’s important to have a good credit score, it only becomes really critical when you’re going to take out a loan to do something like buy a home or a car. So if you’re considering closing some of your credit card accounts, don’t do it if you’re considering taking out a loan.
5. Let Tech Take the Load
In the old days, you had to do things like budget on paper and balance your checkbook. This made staying on budget and organizing your personal finances tough but today, those things are easier than ever.
When I first decided to take control of my personal finances, Mint was where I started. That was years ago but I still use it, still love it, and still recommend it. I love Mint because it’s so easy to use, it’s free, and it’s pretty fool proof.
Once you connect your accounts (it’s safe to do so, Mint is owned by Intuit who also own Turbo Tax so if it’s safe to upload your tax information to, it’s safe for your personal finances, and Mint is read-only.
Even if someone did hack into your account, they couldn’t withdraw money from it) and set up your budget categories and their amounts, Mint does the rest for you.
It pulls every transaction from your linked accounts and categorizes them. Occasionally Mint will put a transaction in the wrong category but it doesn’t happen often and you can fix it in just a few seconds.
If you’re still budgeting with a spreadsheet, give Mint a try. It will make budgeting faster, easier, and probably more accurate.
6. Automate It
When I was a kid, paying bills looked like such a chore. My parents sat at the dining room table which was spread with papers, stamps, envelopes, and a calculator.
They drank coffee while they paid the bills which always made it seem very serious and grown up to me. It took hours (well, it probably didn’t but I was a kid who liked lots of attention which was in short supply on bill paying night so it seemed like hours)!
Maybe this sounds familiar because you’re still paying your bills this way. But bill paying can be so much easier. I can pay all of my bills online, even my rent.
I don’t remember the last time I wrote a check. You can probably pay most if not all of your bills online too. It’s faster and easier.
If you want to go a step further, you can sign up for autopay for most of your bills too. This only works if you feel comfortable giving a vendor access to your checking account. I don’t.
The only bill I autopay is my cell phone bill and that’s only because the amount doesn’t fluctuate so I always know how much is going to be debited from my account and because AT&T gave me a $20 a month discount for doing so.
If you have a history of forgetting to pay bills on-time, autopay may be a good solution. The off chance that too much money is debited from your account is outweighed by the fact that you won’t be hit with late payment penalties for being disorganized.
7. Cluster Your Dates
You can select the date some of your bills are due. Not all vendors allow it but a lot of credit card companies and student loan servicers do.
If you can cluster the due dates of your bills, it will help organize your personal finances. You only have to sit down and pay bills once or twice a month rather than all throughout the month.
If you choose to do this, make sure you have enough money to pay the bills. If you get paid on the first and fifteenth, maybe split your due dates between the second and the sixteenth.
Set up alerts on your phone for a day or two before your bills are due and be sure to set it to go off at a time you’ll be able to sit down and take care of them.
8. Take Responsibility
If you and your partner have joined your finances, one of you needs to be the designated bill payer. If this task isn’t assigned to one of you, bills can go unpaid because each of you thinks the other has already paid it.
That doesn’t mean the bill payer is responsible for all aspects of the personal finances. It’s too big a job for one person and for a variety of reasons, both people need to be involved in the family finances.
But one person does need to make sure the bills are paid.
9. Don’t Use Cash
If you’ve ever taken $100 out of the ATM on a Friday night and had $3 left on Monday morning with no idea where that $97 went, you’ll know what we mean when we tell you not to use cash.
Cash is hard to track. I don’t keep all of the receipts for every purchase I make and my memory isn’t good enough to remember what I bought and how much it cost.
You don’t have to worry about that stuff when you make all of your purchases with a debit or credit card.
The only times it’s beneficial to pay cash is if you have a hard time sticking to your budget so are using the envelope system which requires you to spend cash or you can get a discount for paying in cash.
10. Know Your Score
It’s a good idea to check your credit score periodically. Some people have no idea what their score is and some people obsess over their score, trying to get to the practically mythical 800.
You don’t want to be clueless about your score, as mentioned above, you want to have a good credit score when you’re ready to borrow money because the better your score, the lower the interest rate you can borrow at and the lower your interest rate, the cheaper the loan.
But there is no need to twist yourself in knots trying to get a “perfect” 800 score. As long as your score is 760 or above, you’ll be offered the best interest rate. If your score could use some work, there are ways you can improve it.
You can dispute incorrect information and have it removed from your credit report.
If you have more than one student loan servicer, you can refinance your loan. This simplifies your personal finances because you’ll have one new loan rather than multiple loans. And you can often refinance for a lower interest rate than you currently have which will save you money on the loan.
You can go to LendKey to see what kind of student loan refinancing rates you’re eligible for.
If you have outstanding credit card debt, you may be able to get a consolidation loan through a company like Lending Club.
Like refinancing your student loan, taking a debt consolidation loan allows you to have one payment and will likely lower your interest rate.
Unlike Your Closet…
The great thing about organizing your personal finances, apart from reducing late fees and stress, is that once you do it, it’s pretty much done.
As long as you check in every once in a while, things stay organized without much effort from you. Unlike your closet where two or three bad days can make it look like you never did any organizing at all!