My Financial Account Tidying Up Checklist

kondoI suppose it’s not a good sign that in the middle of reading a #1 NYT bestselling book on organizing your stuff… you lose the book in all your stuff. In case you haven’t heard of it yet, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In my defense, it is a rather small book. I hope I don’t have to buy another one.

Instead of spending more time looking for it, I decided to make a list of all my financial items that could use some decluttering. As someone who loves to try out new financial products, I tend to accumulate accounts in during bouts of enthusiasm. Part of the “Kondo-ing” process is going through things by categories (i.e. clothing) and not moving onto another category until you’re done. Most importantly, you should only keep things that “bring you joy”. Hmm… how about “bring me profit”?

Bank accounts

  • Close out inactive bank accounts which are unlikely to offer good interest rates or other benefits in the future.
  • Re-examine all automated transfers (direct deposit, 401k contributions, 529 contributions, auto billpay, etc).

Investment accounts

  • Close out idle brokerage accounts.
  • Merge all speculative activity into one brokerage account.
  • Consider liquidating all positions smaller than a certain size.
  • Merge smaller 529 plan accounts and/or change beneficiaries.
  • Check up on LendingClub and Prosper P2P lending accounts. These should be nearly wound down.
  • Check up on Patch of Land crowdfunded hard money lending account.

Credit card accounts

  • Close out accounts which will not justify the annual fee based on my planned activities for the next year. Decide ahead of time which ones to keep if they offer to waive the annual fee for another year.
  • Mark on calendar any special perks or benefits which still need to be used.

Gift cards

  • Redeem Visa/Mastercard/AmEx prepaid cards into Amazon gift card credit.
  • Think of ways to use up retail gift cards; add to calendar to be finished next two weeks.
  • Decide what to do with unused retail gift card. Sell at loss? Wait until year-end 2015 and use for gifts?

Not-going-to-do list

  • I still haven’t gone paperless and have no immediate plans to do so, but I already have a pretty good system for organizing my paper statements.
  • The same system already has me examining all expenses on a monthly basis.
  • I’m happy with my core investment portfolio. Relatively clean and simple.
  • I don’t have any old 401k or IRA balances floating around. We have an active 401(k) at Schwab PCRA, Solo 401(k) at Fidelity, and IRAs at Vanguard.
  • I’m happy with our core monthly cashflow setup. We combine finances and have one joint checking account where we deposit a set amount each month and pay all bills from that account. We make additional transfers if we have larger one-time expenses like a new roof or something.

I’ll try to update as I work through this list.

Willing.com Review: Free, Legal Online Will Software

I must admit that I procrastinated on setting up a will, much like many others. Ideally, an experienced, skilled estate lawyer would create something customized to your situation. But it is not always clear how to find such a person, or know what a fair cost would be. Maybe we just don’t like the idea of thinking about death.

If you don’t create a will, your state already has a default plan in place (look up the intestacy laws in your state) and it may not be what you would have chosen. Do you want a stranger appointing the guardian of your children? I tried to think of it as a gift to my family. A reader recently told me about Willing.com, a new website that promises a free, legal will in about 10 minutes. Is such a service a good idea?

Here’s what The Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) had to say about other DIY will-making software:

Our wallet-watching cousins at the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter took a look at three DIY options for will-making — LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus — and found that while all three are better than not having a will, none of them is likely to meet the needs of anything more than the most basic of estates.

I’d never heard of Willing before, but the other software costs $35 and up, so I took it for a little spin and took a bunch of screenshots (click to enlarge).

Overall, the interface was very pleasant and modern and mobile-friendly.

First, they will ask some basic information about you and your family. Names, genders, zip codes, and birthdates, but not Social Security Numbers. I suppose they aren’t required legally? At least it’s one less source of identity theft to worry about.

Next, they will ask you how you want to handle your property…

willing1

willing2

.. and final arrangements.

willing3

Who do you want to carry out your wishes?

willing4

When you’re done with the questionnaire, your will is created and customized to your state.

willing5

You can then print or download your complete will as a PDF, and also create an optional living will.

willing6

At no point do you see any advertisements nor do they ask for any payment information. The last screenshot does provide a hint as to the future revenue model for Willing – perhaps they will set up a way for you to prepay your funeral expenses (relieving your family of some stress and money) and get a little cut of that. That sounds reasonable to me if they are providing the will for free. Of course, if you live another 50 years, will you even remember shelling out that money?

I am not a lawyer and thus can’t vouch for the accuracy or quality of the will contents. As the Consumerist article states, one thing to worry about is outdated information if their software isn’t updated regularly. The final instructions tell you to sign the will along with two valid witnesses and that a notary is not required for the will to be legally binding.

The final document produced was only three pages long, although my theoretical situation was pretty simple. As I read through it, I started to see how such software would eventually become free. Indeed, while researching this post, I found several other “free will makers”, although Willing.com had the best user interface and had the least amount of annoying ads.

It may not be optimal, but at least going through the Q&A process will make you aware of the various issues you need to think about. Who will take care of your kids if your spouse dies? Who is your backup heir? Your backup estate executor? Maybe just starting the process of putting your wishes down in writing is a good thing. Otherwise, I can see someone with a simple situation using this software, but don’t know if I could recommend such a service to my friends. If I really cared about how my estate was handled (i.e. I had a significant net worth and/or dependents), I would recommend hiring a lawyer instead. The question then becomes – Is there a better way to find a good estate lawyer than relying on word-of-mouth?

Costco Pharmacy: Save on Prescription Drug Costs

cr_costcopharm

While standing in line at the Costco pharmacy, I found myself in a discussion with another Costco member who apparently saves over a thousand dollars a year on her meds by buying them there instead of her neighborhood CVS. (I also got an earful … [Read the rest]

AutoSlash Review: Car Rental Price Drop Tracker

autoslash2

Here's a quick tip that I've been using regularly this summer for saving money on car rentals. A quick primer on car rental reservations. When you make a reservation at most car rental shops, you simply agree to a price and make a non-binding … [Read the rest]

Jet.com: Loss Leader Pricing on Everything + 1 Year Free Promo Code

jet_tp

Jet.com has officially launched its attempt to bring the Costco model to online shopping. That is, they plan on selling you things at near-zero profit margins and make their money on the annual $49.99 membership fee. The more stuff you add your … [Read the rest]

4 Different Rules of Thumb For How Much House You Can Afford

Updated. Buying a house is always an exciting yet terrifying time. Deciding on how much we can "afford" is often limited by how much someone will lend us. Mortgage lenders use income size, income stability, credit score, down payment size, and … [Read the rest]

Owning a World Market-Cap Weighting of Gold

2015gold

Gold is an asset class that is part commodity, part currency, and part insurance policy. As I write this, gold prices are at a 5-year low. I own a little physical gold for cultural reasons, but I don't consider it part of my asset allocation and I … [Read the rest]

Alternative View: Keep Up With The OTHER Joneses

joneses

We've all heard the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses". It even has its own Wikipedia page with competing origin stories. Perhaps the greatest marketing trick ever is making people equate social status with material goods. Instead of … [Read the rest]

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard: Limited-Time Offer

citiexec

Limited-time offer. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, from our partner Citi, is their premium American Airlines co-branded card and the sign-up bonus has been bumped up for a limited-time. The high … [Read the rest]

Best Frugal Non-Stick Fry Pan / Saute Pan

nonstick

I think it was Alton Brown's food show that first told me that all non-stick pans were pretty much disposable and simply weren't meant to last very long. Therefore, you should just buy the standard fry pan found at your local restaurant supply … [Read the rest]

Ally Bank Savings Account Review

allyreview_main

Updated. I've done a significant amount of my banking with Ally for years (checking, savings, and multiple CDs), but the "gateway drug" for me and probably most people will be their Ally Online Savings Account. This is a review specific to using the … [Read the rest]

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account Review

Ally Bank Logo 2

Updated. If you are looking for a flexible alternative to a megabank account with tiny interest but convenient ATM network, here is my review of the Ally Interest Checking Account which I use in conjunction with the Ally Online Savings Account and … [Read the rest]