As a physician, it’s hard to make progress toward your goals if you’re lost in a sea of accounts and paperwork. Dealing with the scattered bits and pieces of your financial life make it impossilbe to see whether or not you're really on track.
But if you can get financially organized, you create a clear path in front of you that makes it easier to build financial security for your family.
Ready to get started? These seven strategies will allow you clean up your finances right now.
1. Go Paperless
Start the organization process by cutting off what supplies the clutter: an endless array of paper statements sent by every company you work with each month.
Turn off paper statements and get documents electronically. This limits the amount of paper you physically have sitting around on your desk. It’s also safer, since things won’t get lost or stolen in the mail.
Next, set up a cloud-based storage system to keep your information in a single, easy-to-access place. Google Drive is a great (and free) option, and you’ve already got it if you’ve got Gmail.
You can log into your cloud storage from any device -- laptop, smartphone, iPad -- and access all the same information anywhere.
2. Keep Your Information Safe and Secure
Managing everything online and electronically is a great method for staying financially organized -- but it’s not without its own risks and challenges. The biggest? Keeping all that information safe.
Use strong passwords, and assign a different password to every account. You don’t want to write these down in a place where someone else could see or take your notes, either.
So use a tool like LastPass to generate encrypted logins for every financial account you have. The service “remembers” all that data and manages it in one place for you. If you go this route, turn on 2-factor authentication for added security.
3. Throw Out What You No Longer Need
Even after you make the effort to go paperless, you’ll likely receive some physical documents by mail. Do you need to keep all that stuff?
It is important to hang on to certain documents, but you want to make sure you’re not just accumulating clutter. Go through your existing financial information and make sure you’re only keeping what you actually need:
Annual tax returns (always keep the returns; you can toss supporting documentation for individual returns after 3 years)
Year-end statements from investment accounts (keep for 3 years, then you can toss)
Documents that contain records that relate to your home, for as long as you live in or own that home
Forms that show contributions and withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s, and any 8606 forms (you’ll have these if you reported nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs)
You can throw out things like receipts and deposit slips after you receive your monthly account statements (and ensure all the charges match up to your records). And you don’t need to keep pay stubs after you receive your W-2 for the year.
4. Create a Process for Paperwork and Documents
Keep the physical paperwork you do need to hang onto nicely organized. Our simple 3-step process for managing it all can help:
Get a large box and label it. Write “Financial Records,” and the year.
As you receive all your paperwork throughout the year, you can put your documents into the box. You don’t even have to organize it neatly; just put it in as you receive it.
At the end of the year, choose a spot where you can store the box. Place it there and then get yourself a new box. Write “Financial Records,” the new year, and repeat the process. After a couple of years go by, you can move older boxes to the attic or basement.
This ensures you keep what you need, you know where it’s at, and you don’t need to continuously sort through it. If you need to fetch documents for your financial planner or tax preparer, you’ll know where to find your box.
5. Choose the Right Credit Cards
Keep your credit in check by using it deliberately. Get 2 credit cards and use one for online purchases. Use the other for in-person transactions, so you always have a useable card if one becomes compromised. Some card issuers will even issue two cards on the same account, making things even easier.
Choose credit cards that offer cash back, not points or miles, like these:
Quicksilver® Rewards from CapitalOne: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash-back on every purchase.
Discover it® Card: Get 5% cash back in rotating categories (like gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon) that change each quarter, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
6. Audit Your Accounts
When’s the last time you tracked down every financial account with your name on it? Make a list of all your bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, retirement plans (from past and present employers), and so on.
Consider closing accounts that you don’t use anymore. You could also consolidate accounts, whether it’s putting two savings accounts together or rolling over an old retirement plan into your current account.
Do the same with your service and subscription accounts. Make a list and then ask: do I use these? Do I need them? Close the ones you don’t want or need. More organization means more savings.
7. Refinance and/or Consolidate Student Loans
Refinancing your student debt can save money. It can also provide you with a more manageable financial situation if you consolidate multiple loans into one.
When you refinance, you get a new loan to pay of an old one (or a single new loan to pay off multiple existing debts).
Refinancing and consolidating may make sense if you can originate that new loan with better terms -- and without giving up benefits that came with the old debt, having to put up collateral, or getting co-signer on the new loan.
Use our guide to refinancing medical school debt to help you decide if this should be part of your financial organization process.
Building a solid financial foundation starts when you get financially organized and put your information in consolidated, easy-to-reach places.
Need help getting started? Get subscription-based financial advice to help you organize your financial life and then start taking action toward your goals.