September 12, 2011

Streamline Your Finances

Nan Jensen RD, LD/N Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Pinellas County Extension

Do you ever feel like there are too many things to do and never enough time? Most of us could probably answer yes to this question. By investing some time and effort into organizing your financial life, you can save many hours and even a significant amount of money. The Financial Deposit Insurance Corporation offers some tips to help

1. Use direct deposit. Make sure to have your pay, pension or Social Security benefits automatically deposited into your bank account. It is easy, convenient and a much safer option. It may even help you avoid bank fees. Direct deposit also gives you access to your money sooner than with a paper check.

2. Automate recurring bills. Often merchants like insurance companies, or utilities, will allow you to pay recurring bills with an automatic withdrawal from your checking account or through a charge to your credit card. However, be sure to record these transactions in your check register to avoid overdrawing your account. And if you charge the bills to a credit card, pay the balance in full by the due date to avoid interest charges.

3. Consider online banking. This service allows you to review deposits and withdrawals, keep track of your balance, and move funds between accounts.

4. Save money automatically. Arrange with your bank or employer to automatically transfer a certain amount into savings accounts or investments on a regular schedule.

5. Consolidate accounts. By consolidating accounts you can reduce mail and paperwork, avoid certain fees and may even get better deals. This step makes it easier to monitor your entire portfolio and ensure that your money is properly diversified. If you plan to consolidate your deposits at one institution make sure the combined funds don't exceed the FDIC's deposit insurance limitations.

6. Look into money-management tools. Software that you download to your computer or Web services managed by your bank or another third-party can give you an updated snapshot of all your account information from multiple institutions, in one place. The programs also can help you organize your finances, understand how you spend your money, and spot a potential fraud or theft.
Do your homework and choose a known and trusted organization, as most of these services collect account numbers and passwords along with other confidential and personally identifiable information

7. Update your legal documents. In addition to reviewing your will, check the beneficiaries listed on life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Update documents that would enable someone to handle your finances or other personal matters if you lose the ability to do so. Be sure to let loved ones know where copies of all legal documents can be found.

8. Get your papers under control. Set up a central filing system at home for your financial records and designate one place for gathering your bills.

9. Don't let a disaster catch you off guard. If an emergency were to occur and you had only few moments to evacuate your home, perhaps for several days or even weeks, would you have access to cash, banking services and the personal identification you need to conduct your day-to-day financial life? Make sure you have all your family's records and valuable documents in one place so you can easily pick them up and take them with you. For information on what types of records to take, check out Disaster Planning: Important Papers and Documents.

10. Learn more about managing your finances. There are many on-line resources and classes to help you learn more about managing your financial life. Pinellas County Extension is offering a Focus on Your Finances series October 11, 18 and 25. To register go to Pinellas County Extension and click on the registration button.

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