Creating an Organized Financial System
There can be a lot of paperwork handling your finances. Each month you will have bills to pay, every year you will file a tax return, you will have receipts for purchases and you will have important documents that deserve special attention. Having an organized system instead of just putting everything into a drawer or box can save time and reduce the stress of not being able to find something when you need it.
Some general record keeping guidelines
- Tax information - There is a general three year statute of limitation for your taxes. This means the IRS has three years from when you file your return to start an audit. (There is no limit for fraudulent returns). Therefore, you need to keep documents that support items on your tax returns for those three years. Each year you can throw out the three year old documents, but you should keep copies of tax returns forever.
- Storage of important papers - There are some papers that deserve special attention. Documents to keep forever include: wills, powers of attorney, birth certificates, marriage documents, divorce or child care orders, trust documents, business agreements, military records and other such permanent records.
- There are other documents that should be kept as long as they may be needed:
- Insurance policies - as long as they are in effect or until a claim could no longer be filed.
- Loan documents - until they are paid off.
- Deeds and real estate papers - as long as you own the property plus any period for tax purposes.
- Employee benefits information - as long as you are employed or until the benefit no longer exists.
- Investment records - as long as you own the investment plus the three year tax reporting period.
- Receipts and warranty information on major purchases - as long as you own the item and could make a claim.
- Monthly statements - Each month you will receive bills, statements and other financial information that you will need to handle. There is a great temptation to keep everything, but that is really not needed.
- Recurring monthly bills - Once you have paid your insurance, rent, mortgage and utility bills, there is no need to keep them. You will have a canceled check to document payment and unless there is something special about the bill, you can dispose of them.
- Credit card statements - Even though there is no requirement to keep these statements, you may want to save them for some period (a year) in case there is a dispute, you want to return an item or if you want to be able to analyze your spending.
- Bank statements and canceled checks - Some people keep every canceled check and others toss most of them. Certainly you should keep canceled checks that support any tax deductions and any that you think may come in handy. Otherwise, canceled checks can take up a lot of space. Bank statements are a bit different. You may want to keep them for some period (three years or so) so you can document your payments for important items. Together with your checkbook register, you would be able to identify when and how much you paid for almost anything.
Creating a filing system
Most people end up using filing folders in a drawer to keep their financial records. If you do not have a drawer to use, buy a plastic storage bin. Buy a box of folders and label them for each type of expense you normally have and for other types of records you plan to keep - rent, utilities, auto, insurance, home ownership, family, employment, bank or credit union statements, retirement, medical and any other categories you consider useful. File folders are inexpensive so you may want to buy a box of them and create new folders when you like.
Once you have the files set up, you just put your receipts, statements and other information into them. There is a good chance that some of the folders will get quite bulky over time. When that happens, you can start a new one or better yet, toss out what you do not need.
Paying your monthly bills
There are only two general rules that apply here:
- Pay all bills before any late payment fees are charged.
- Keep accurate records.
You can pay bills by mail or you can save money and pay your bills for free online. Paying bills online is safer and more convenient than sending paper checks. Plus, you can pay as many bills and as many payees as you like, there is no limit. Online bill payment lets you save time by paying your monthly bills automatically. Paying your bills online will also allow you to buy fewer stamps, and order checks less often.
BB&T offers OnLine Bill Payment at no charge with BB&T OnLine®, our free Internet banking services.
Managing your checking account
Accurate financial records, especially with your checking account, are a must. You need to know how much money is in your account before you write checks and you must avoid bouncing checks. This means you have to record each check and ATM transaction. This sounds simple, but it is easy to forget an ATM withdrawal or write a check and forget to record it. Recording each withdrawal and check is simply a habit you must develop.
And, you must reconcile your account each month. Your checking account statement has a form on the back. You may want to consider using personal finance software like Quicken . You can write checks with these programs, and they make balancing your account easier. If you use this type of software, do not forget to enter your ATM transactions and individual checks you write.
BB&T OnLine® is our free Internet banking service, which gives you secure access to your accounts and control of your money, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all from the convenience of your Web browser. Banking online with BB&T also gives you free and unlimited OnLine Bill Payment and the option of accessing your accounts through Quicken® and Quickbooks®