Everyone can benefit from an annual review of their personal finances. This is a process of looking at where you stand in terms of your debt, assets, budget, goals and any personal finance plans you have for yourself.
A "spring cleaning" of your personal finances should include looking at all of your accounts to see where you can cut your spending or increase your savings and investments. This type of annual review will help you spot opportunities and problems and let you take steps to start addressing them.
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Step 1: Review Your Goals
Look at the goals you set last year for improving your finances. These goals might have included:
- Reducing debt
- Funding an emergency account
- Funding your retirement
- Securing adequate health insurance
- Cutting spending
- Decreasing your debt
- Increasing your credit score
- Saving for kids' college
- Saving for a mortgage
- Saving for a vacation
Step 2: Assess Your Progress
Review your progress on your goals. Look at where you started the year and where you are now. Ask yourself why you did or did not meet your goals. Re-order your goals, in order of importance, if they've changed during the past year.
Step 3: Review Your Accounts
Look at all of the companies you pay money to. This can include utilities, cable, internet and phone providers. Look at your credit cards, student loan, car loan, mortgage or rent. You might be able to refinance your mortgage and lower your monthly payments. Can you do a balance transfer on a credit card and come out ahead?
Step 4: Pull Your Credit Reports
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com and pull your three credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can do this once for free each year. You can also contact each reporting agency directly via their websites. Review your reports to make sure all of your information is accurate. If not, get it fixed right away.
Step 5: Meet With a Professional
Meet with a Certified Financial Planner to get advice on your spending, savings, retirement and investing plans. The advice you'll get should more than pay for the cost of the consultation. A CFP can give you advice in every area of your finances, including health and life insurance, retirement account options, tax savings and mortgages.
Step 6: Set New Goals
Now that you have an indication of last year's performance and a good assessment of where you stand now, decide if your priorities have changed and re-order your goals, if necessary. Set strategic goals, which are long-term objectives, and then set tactical goals, which are the methods you'll use to reach your strategic goals, advises MyFIREFacts.com. You might also look at increasing your income through side hustles.
Step 7: Starting Improving Your Credit
If you don't have at least a very good credit score, start looking at reducing your credit card debt. Don't close cards you aren't using – you can damage your score. If you don't have your credit cards set up for autopay at the issuer's website, do so now to make sure you don't miss any payments this year.
Step 8: Re-Shop Your Providers
Look at who you pay on a regular basis and see if you can reduce those costs. What about getting a programmable thermostat to cut your heating and cooling bills? Is it time to switch car insurance companies? Should you change where you buy groceries to get access to more deals and cut your food spending by $100 or $200 per month?
Step 9: Create a Household Budget
If you don't have a household budget, now's the time to create one. You'll need to collect all of last year's bank and credit card statements, as well as information from any payment apps you used, to re-create what you spent, or at least identify your regular spending categories.
Step 10: Set Review Dates
Tracking your progress is key to success. Don't wait until next year to review your personal finances again. Check your budget at the end of each month. Keep track of your credit scores using free scores from your credit card companies (you'll need to create an account at your issuer's website).