The onset of spring not only means spring cleaning for your home but also for your financials. Lynette Khalfani Cox, finance expert and founder of financial blog, Ask The Money Coach, shares her top five tips for doing a good financial spring cleaning!
Tip #1: Review your credit reports and credit scores
Spring is peak home buying season. But if you’re in the market for a home loan, mortgage lenders want to see good credit (i.e. a credit score of 700 or more).
There are lots of ways to boost your credit score: pay all your bills on time, avoid inquiries, and dispute erroneous information in your credit files with TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
By law, the government requires each of those three main credit bureaus to give all adults in the U.S. a free copy of their credit report every year. To get your complimentary credit reports, just go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Your credit reports, however, don’t contain your credit scores. To get your credit scores at no cost, use a website or free app like CreditSesame.com.
Tip #2: Shred old financial documents
Sort through your old statements, pay stubs, bills and other financial records and keep only the documents that are absolutely necessary. If you’re unsure about throwing away certain types of receipts, scan them or make a copy, then go ahead and shred!
You only need to keep tax-related records for three years because the IRS can only audit you going back three years. (For those who intentionally commit tax fraud, though, there’s no limit on when the IRS can audit you)!
Also: shredding outdated documents can help you be better organized. Having good records is crucial for filing your taxes this spring and claiming the maximum tax credits and deductions to which you are entitled. By being organized you could get a big tax refund check, since the IRS says the average tax refund is about $3,000.
If you’re expecting a refund, and want to check up on it, you can go to IRS.gov and click on the “where’s my refund” tab.
Tip #3: Record your financial passwords and store them in a safe place
You want to have strong passwords to help avoid identity theft. Remember the Equifax data breach from last year where 145 million Americans had their sensitive data stolen? Well, Equifax recently disclosed that nearly 2 million more people were impacted by the breach.
Don’t make it easy for cyber thieves to get your information because you’ve been lax with passwords.
Make sure you’re not using the same password and login information for all of your online bank accounts and other financial accounts. Protect yourself against identity theft by logging your financial passwords in a document and storing it in a safe place.
You can store password information electronically, in the cloud. Alternatively, you can record your passwords and store them in a safe place like a lock box, a safe or a safe deposit box at your bank or credit union.
Tip #4: Review your budget
Review all your outgoing expenses and compare those bills to your net income, or your take-home pay. The key here is to make sure you are not deficit spending – or spending more money than you’re earning.
Also, change your mindset about budgeting.
Don’t look at it as a negative thing. Instead, view your budget as an empowering tool. It’s something that gives you a spending plan of action and helps you prioritize where you put your hard-earned dollars.
Tip #5: Pay off debt and boost your savings
Unfortunately, most people don’t even have $500 in savings. Yet, collectively Americans have $1 trillion in credit card debt and nearly $1.5 trillion in student loans.
Make a plan to aggressively pay down debt so you can boost your savings and net worth. It's not always easy, but you can reduce debt by using cash more often than plastic; negotiating to get lower interest rates on your cards; and also doubling your minimum payments -- instead of making minimum payments. If you can’t pay double, just pay whatever you can afford above the minimum payment.
Likewise, begin saving money every month without fail. Even if it’s only $25 or $50 that you can afford to sock away monthly, every little bit helps.
By tackling these five items, you’ll get your financial house in order this spring -- and for the rest of 2018 too!