Simple Ideas to Organize Your Finances


Filed under Planning & Money

With the economy struggling and many Americans adjusting the way they spend, now is a great time to do some financial planning. But with so many things to consider, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.

“Organizing your finances doesn’t have to be something you dread. Start with a to-do list and work through each step until you’re done. You should feel better knowing what you’re spending and saving and what you can expect in the future,” says Scott Oberkrom, director of Community Investments at American Century Investments. “Web sites like offer easy tips for getting started.”

Consider getting your finances in order by completing the BEST to-do list — budget, estate, savings and taxes:

Budget Analysis
It’s important to create and maintain a budget and the New Year is a great time to review your income and expenses. This will be easier if you get in the habit of tracking the money you spend using a paper ledger or with your computer. Remember to account for any debt expenses you may have, such as credit card and loan payments and include changes you anticipate such as a pay raise or a new car payment in the New Year.

Think about ways to maximize your income and minimize expenses. If you need more income, you may decide to work a few extra hours at a part-time job in addition to your current job. Look for ways both large and small to spend less throughout the year. For example, you may be able to save a significant amount of money by bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out.

Estate Planning
Review your beneficiaries for your insurance policies, investments and retirement plans to make sure they are accurate and up to date. Review your will and trust documents to make sure they’re accurate, too. If you had any life or family changes, such as a birth, adoption or divorce, you may need to revise your beneficiary designations.

Savings and Investments
Make sure you have adequate savings or at least a plan to save during the year. This includes a separate emergency fund which should have at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

Set specific investing goals, such as retirement or college education, and review how much money you’ll need to reach each of your goals. Adjust your investment plan or goals if needed to increase your likelihood of success. For example, you may decide to establish an automatic investment plan to invest toward your goals on a regular basis. Or maybe you planned to retire early but find you’ll have a greater likelihood of retiring comfortably if you work a few years longer.

Tax Preparation
If you typically owe additional income tax each year or you get a big tax refund (which is essentially money you’ve loaned to the government throughout the year), you may want to consider adjusting your income tax withholding to have more or less withheld from your paycheck. You can adjust your tax withholding through your employer on IRS Form W-4.

Review the personal exemptions you claim for federal and state taxes to make sure they’re accurate and up to date. Also, take advantage of deductions to reduce your taxable income. For example, why not maximize your state tax payments before year-end since state taxes generally are deductible from your taxable income? You can deduct interest on your mortgage payments and you also may be able to deduct charitable donations.

“Don’t delay in getting your finances organized and getting the peace of mind that comes along with it,” says Oberkrom. “It’s easier than you think if you take it step-by-step.”

Article courtesy of ARA Content

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