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Money & Policy

7 Ways to Streamline Your Finances

They'll help you save time and stress less about money


Part of the The Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know Special Report

Given the enormous stress we’re all living through right now, you may be interested in a way to take some stress out of your life. You can do that by streamlining your finances to make things simpler for you now and in retirement. Basically, it’s about consolidating financial accounts and getting rid of duplicative mutual funds, ETFs (exchange traded funds) and 401(k) accounts.

“Heading into retirement, it’s typically good to streamline your finances as much as possible,” advises Andy Panko, owner of retirement planning and investment management firm, Tenon Financial, in Iselin, N.J. “The goal is to make your financial life as simple as it can be, but no simpler.”

7 Ways to Streamline Your Finances

Here are seven ways to do it:

1. Get rid of unnecessary mutual funds and ETFs. Have you accumulated lots of different mutual funds and ETFs over the years? If some of them are investing in the same types of stocks or bonds as others, combine them into one fund or ETF.

Or it may be time to replace actively managed mutual funds whose managers try to beat the stock market with passive index funds that essentially mirror it. There’s increasing evidence of the difficulty of actively managed funds to beat the Standard & Poor’s 500 market index.

“Often folks carry multiple credit cards for various purposes. Having only one card will make life a lot simpler.”

2. Consolidate your 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). “If you have multiple traditional IRAs or 401(k)s from previous jobs, it’s generally best to consolidate them all, ideally into just one account if possible,” Panko says. “Not only does this help minimize the number of online logins you have to remember and statements you need to keep track of, it also helps you better manage Required Minimum Distributions.”

Those distributions from tax-deferred retirement accounts, also known as RMDs, are required by the Internal Revenue Service starting when you turn 72 (although the recent CARES Act offers some temporary flexibility).

To streamline your retirement accounts, contact each plan’s customer service department either by email or phone. Explain that you want to merge a particular account with another 401(k) or IRA you have. Then, follow the steps you’re given.

Do this with all the plans you want to consolidate.

One benefit of this technique: “Consolidating all your tax-deferred money into one account means there will only be one RMD you need to take each year,” Panko says.

3. Consolidate some Roth IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts. “If you have other investment accounts such as Roth IRAs or regular brokerage (accounts) which are not tax-deferred, it’s also normally good practice to consolidate them all into just one for each type,” Panko says.

4. Limit the number of checking and savings accounts you have.  One or two bank accounts are all you need. Says Panko: “You should have one checking account to receive all your normal sources of income and pay all your normal living expenses. Typically, your checking account shouldn’t have more than enough money to cover a couple of months of expenses.”

For additional cash savings, Panko suggests a high-yield savings account or certificate of deposit, both of which earn more interest than a checking account.

5. Automate your bills. Using a bill-pay service from your bank or an online service means you don’t need to remember to pay the bills or spend the time doing so. Plus, you’ll have fewer checks to write each month.

“Using auto-drafts and other automations to streamline your finances is often an easy way to reduce your monthly upkeep in the household,” says Ian Bloom, owner and financial life planner at Open World Financial Life Planning in Raleigh, N.C.

6. Get rid of extraneous credit cards. You may be able to manage with just one, or two max.

“Often folks carry multiple credit cards for various purposes,” Bloom says. “Having only one card will make life a lot simpler.”

If you can’t manage with just one credit card, how about two? Perhaps you keep an American Express card that must be paid in full each month and one revolving charge card for payments that require more time.

7. Once you’ve done all your streamlining, make a list the financial accounts you have left. Then give a copy to a loved one for safekeeping, just in case one day you’re unable to manage your money.

Advises Bloom: “Include the institutions that hold these accounts, phone numbers for them and any relevant passwords and logins. Also, list all your professionals on it — people like your CPA, attorney and financial planner.”

One day, Bloom says, this list “will make a huge difference” to the people who care about you.

Lucy Lazarony
By Lucy Lazarony
Lucy Lazarony is a freelance journalist living in South Florida who writes about personal finances, the arts and nonprofits. Her writing Is featured on Next Avenue, Bankrate.com, MoneyRates.com, MSN.com and the National Endowment for Financial Education. She previously worked as a staff writer at Bankrate.com.

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