Productive Finances Checklist

Here is a checklist for your financial productivity. Most of these things seem minor, but taken together, they really add up and can make a big difference in how efficiently you are using your time and money.

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  1. Are you using direct deposit for your paychecks? — If you are still manually carrying a check to the bank or putting it in the mail, stop! Direct deposit will get your money to the bank faster so you start earning interest as soon as possible. Even if it only saves you 5 minutes every two weeks, that is an extra 2 hours each year you can spend on something more important.
  2. Is your money in the bank earning at least 4% interest? — If not, look for a different account. There are many banks out there with savings accounts earning at least 4%. (Note: Interest rates have dropped considerably since this was originally written.  The point is that you should check your interest rate and make sure you can’t get something significantly better with a different account.)
  3. Does your checking account earn interest? — If not, consider if you should switch to a different type of account. Sometimes combining your checking and savings into a single account will get you over certain minimums and allow you to earn more interest than either account could earn separately.
  4. Are you paying any unnecessary fees to your bank? – Watch out for fees. Your bank should be paying you for the privilege of keeping your money, not the other way around.
  5. Have you maxed out your employer contribution to retirement? — Many employers offer some type of matched retirement savings plans. If you put in 3% of your income, they will match it. (The best retirement plan I had matched 7%.) If your work offers this and you aren’t taking advantage of it, you are basically throwing money away. Sometimes companies don’t publicize this information very well, so be sure to check the employee handbook and any information on retirement benefits.
  6. Do you have any old credit cards that should be canceled? — You might be surprised how many credit cards you have–especially if you tend to sign up for those promotions where you get 25% off your purchase if you sign up for a credit card at Target or JCPennys. If you have cards you aren’t using, you should cancel them so they don’t show up on your credit report and to reduce your chances of having to deal with fraud.
  7. Are you using bill payment? – This is a time saving feature just like direct deposits. In my opinion, if your bank doesn’t offer this, you should switch banks to one that does. Many places offer free bill payment services. If they can directly wire money to the vendor, they will. If not, they will manually cut a check and send it. Bill payment saves you postage and makes it easier to manage your bills directly on your bank’s website.
  8. Is your banking password secure? — If you read the fine print, most banks aren’t liable if someone breaks into your account because you didn’t have a secure password or had some type of spyware on your computer. Make sure your bank password is something secure. If they offer one of those security keychains with the changing number, consider getting one of those.
  9. If you were to die, could your spouse easily find a list of all your accounts? — This is preparing for the worst case scenario, but if you handle most of the finances and you were to die, a very small amount of planning now will make things easier on your spouse. A list of bank accounts and insurance policies could make things much easier when you are gone.
  10. Are you taking advantage of FLEX and HSA plans? — Some employers and insurance plans offer these types of accounts as a way of setting aside pretax money to use for health care. The rules are fairly liberal and you can use these accounts for a variety of things including contact solution and aspirin. If you know you will have some medical expenses, these can be good ways to plan ahead to lower your tax burden.
  11. Are you taking advantage of preventative healthcare? — Insurance companies realize that it is much cheaper to treat problems when they are small. Many plans include routine checkups and office visits to encourage you to have things checked out early on. Some offer other wellness plans to encourage you to take care of yourself. Taking advantage of these plans can help keep you healthy and let you fully utilize the services that have already been paid for as part of your insurance policy.

Can you think of some key items that should be on this checklist? If so please contribute them to the comments.

Originally published March 12, 2008.

Comments

  1. Brian Berman says

    #6 on your list is generally a misconception. In most cases, keeping an old credit card at a $0 balance, is usually good for your credit. “Age” plays a huge roll on credit reports. The exception to this rule is if you are paying stupid fees to keep this account. In this case, you must decide if keeping the card is worth the fees. For example, a person with a 750 credit score can probably drop their old First Premier Bank card with 29% interest and $100/year fee but the person with the 580 score should probably hang onto it as it may be their only shot at building their credit.

  2. says

    @Brian – A few cards yes, but if you have 10 credit cards that you’ve collected over the years your credit score is going to take those into consideration as part of your potential debt load. Also the more cards you have the greater your chances of fraud going undetected.

    Keep in mind I’m not talking about someone having 3, 4 or 5 cards. I’m talking about the cards that might be in your name even though you don’t physically have them any more.

  3. Brian Berman says

    @Mark – Unless each of these cards have something like a $10k+ credit line each, having these cards is good for your debt load since they are a zero balance. Your point about identity theft is good though. Responsible review of your credit report should catch most of these things. For example, if you have 10 cards with a $1000 credit line, that is $10,000 of “available” credit. This shows that despite having the available credit, you are NOT using it and have control. The only way this could flip around is if you are going for something such as a mortgage and the bank may fear that your available credit could get you into trouble. And like I said earlier, this is more of an issue with high credit lines. This is rare, but usually a mortgage broker can help you readjust if that is the case. When I was building my credit, I had accounts open in which I paid and cut the card up and just let them age for years.

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