2008 is almost over, but there's still time to take care some financial housekeeping.
Completing these tasks now and updating them at least annually, will help you stay on top of your money. And knowing what you have will help you maximize it.
I admit it. I've neglected this for the last 11¾ months. I have all my monthly bank, bill and investment statements, but they are just stacked up in my office. Separate stacks, at least, but not properly filed in their respective folders in our personal accounts filing cabinet.
A couple of times I've have to rifle through the stacks to find a document I needed. It was not fun, because I was looking for something to clear up a problem. I knew I had it, but it took me a few extra minutes to get my hands on it. Since I was already irritated, not being able to immediately pull it out to make my point was an added frustration I could have avoided if the documents had been filed properly as soon as they arrived.
When you do file your account statements, make sure your organization system includes a category for taxes. You'll want to put, for example, all your receipts for deductions, such as business expenses and charitable gifts, and income statements (salary and investments) in a place where you can easily get to all of them when it's time to fill out your 2008 return next year.
I'm a big fan of accordion folders. They're expandable and easily portable, allowing you to grab the folder and take all your necessary documentation to your tax prep material to your workspace or accountant if you hire out the job.
Put estate documents in place
Most of us tend to put this off. Mortality is not a comfortable consideration, but not properly preparing for the inevitable is not going to stop it. And delaying these financial tasks will only make things more difficult for your family. So do everyone a favor and at least think about these issues before the end of the year.
Make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date, on insurance policies as well as financial (especially retirement) accounts.
You can always change these documents later as needed, but it's critical to get something in place as a start.
Tell your spouse or partner
The hubby and I are equal partners. But when it comes to the actual, day-to-day administration of financial duties, we split the responsibilities. I suspect most couples do the same.
And I suspect these couples also are like the hubby and me in that while they know the other's responsibilities are crucial, we don't know exactly how they accomplish the tasks that we all too often take for granted.
So take a few minutes each year to discuss the mechanics. And be sure to thank your better half for all he or she is doing!
Write it down
In addition to talking about your respective household financial duties, put all the details on paper. Make backup copies, both in paper form as well as electronically, e.g., on a flash drive you can put in a safe place.
Create an emergency letter for each other, listing the details you probably do know about each other -- birth date, Social Security number, extended family contact info, employment data -- as well as stuff that just doesn't tend to come up in daily conversation, such as drivers license numbers, credit card account numbers (some creditors issue each account holder a slightly different set of digits), etc.
You'll also want to include in this comprehensive list:
Location of wills, trusts, dates completed, attorney, executors, birth certificate information and location.
All bank accounts, savings, money market accounts, etc.
Safety deposit box information
Annuities, dividends, interest earned, part time jobs, business, etc.
Brokerage accounts, 401(k), SEP/Keogh, stocks, IRAs, bonds, etc.
Registration data for autos and other vehicles
Deeds to your residence and other real property; note balances owed, loan company information and account numbers
Insurance policies on your residence, vacation property; include account numbers, addresses, amount of coverage, agent's name and address, etc.
Other insurance, e.g., life, health, auto, long-term care, umbrella policies; include account numbers, addresses, amount of coverage, agent's name and address, etc.
Creditor data, e.g., personal loans, credit card accounts, etc; note balances owed, loan company information and account numbers
If you've organized your documents, gathering the information and compiling it an easy to access format will be a snap.
Your financial adviser probably has a document you can use to accomplish this. Many financial planning software programs do the same.
Don't forget financial passwords
Sharing this crucial computer access information is especially important if one or both of you handles accounts electronically. If something happens and your partner isn't able to take care of this or provide the details, you'll need to assume his or her duties in this area until he or she can resume them. So be sure to include your passwords, as well as your security Q&As, on your financial document list.
Take care of Mom and Dad
It's also a good time to check up on your parents, especially if they're older and you don't see them regularly. You might have done this when you, your folks and your siblings got together over the holidays. If so, great! If you didn't want to bog down the festivities with real-life concerns then, take some time -- and do it soon -- to have this difficult but necessary discussion with your family.
Hopefully, you'll confirm that Mom and Dad are doing OK. But if they do need some help, discuss ways y'all can help them handle routine tasks or their finances.
Whew! Yes, it's a lot of stuff to do in very little time. But even if you can't take care of it all by Dec. 31, at least get started. Once you get the framework in place, the annual maintenance will be easier at the end of next year.
Here's to a Happy and Prosperous 2009!