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Money: Getting Your Financial Life in Order

Sometimes it feels as if the whole world is going to “heck” in a hand basket. When that occurs, it’s nice to be able to bring a little order to something in your life. For me, it’s cleaning off my desk and the hodge-podge found there. I know — I’m a financial planner. My financial information shouldn’t be a mess, but it is! So the best place to start is to figure out what needs to be saved, in what format and for how long.
Many documents can be scanned or saved on your computer — if you back up frequently; in addition I like having a big plastic box with a hinged lid and handle that will hold letter-sized file folders. That way if I need to leave my home in case of emergency, I can pick up that box and have all my important printed financial records.

I use file folders to separate important financial files inside the box. Here is a list of file categories and how long to keep the records:

1.Auto/Vehicle — Keep your car title, warranty book and the original invoice for the car as long as you own the vehicle.


2.Bank — Collect copies of your statements/cancelled checks until you prepare your taxes, then shred anything you don’t need for taxes.

3.Credit — Save information related to your various credit cards or installment agreements, credit card account numbers and the telephone numbers to call if the cards are stolen or lost as long as your accounts are active.

4.Insurance — You need separate sub-folders for Auto, Homeowner’s, Life and Disability. Keep the original contract, plus the most recent statement related to that insurance, like the declaration page you receive every six months for your car.

5.Investments — Collect the monthly statements you receive until the end of the year. You’ll need those for your taxes, if you bought or sold anything during the year. After you prepare your taxes, keep only the year-end reports as long as you keep the accounts open.

6.Medical — Keep information related to health insurance and any records you may need in the future, such as immunization records and records of expenses paid in case you need them for taxes.

7.Real Estate — Hold onto your original settlement statements for all property you own, along with records related to the financing. If you refinance, you can get rid of the records of the last mortgage, but be sure to keep the original settlement statement so that you have record of the costs related to the purchase of the property.

8.Residence — Keep records of permanent upgrades to your house, such as the cost of new windows or wood flooring, including installation. In addition, keep a worksheet that shows when you last painted each room — including paint colors.

9.Retirement — Save your most recent 401k statements. If you have retirement accounts from several employers, or you also have IRA/Roth accounts at banks or brokerage companies, you need to keep the most recent statements for those as well. Remember, at least the year-end statement for each account needs to be kept forever.

10.Social Security — Be sure to keep and look over your annual Social Security statements to see if the amounts posted there match your W-2s for the most recent years. You only have three years to correct erroneous information with the Social Security Administration.

11.Taxes — This should include a sub-file for any documents you are going to need to have to file this year’s taxes. You should also keep the returns and back up information for the last three years. After three years, you can shred the back-up information, but keep the actual returns forever.

12Warranties — Put the original receipts attached to the warranty books for anything you buy with a warranty.


13.Wills/Legal Documents — Keep copies of the original documents.



You also need a small fireproof box for the original vehicle titles, deeds, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, wills, other legal documents and social security cards. With these two boxes, you can rescue all the financial records you will need in case of emergency!

Cynthia L. Conger, CPA/PFS, CFP® owns Conger Wealth Management, a fee-only firm offering financial planning, tax preparation and asset management. Cindy has been recognized by Worth Magazine for a decade as one of the top practitioners in the nation and has been named to Wealth Magazine’s “50 Distinguished Women in Wealth Management.”

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