It’s a new year, and many of us are determined to get our financial institutions in order.
We envision a world where bills don’t pile up on hall tables, taxes aren’t done at the last minute, and we end up getting to work on a plan and sticking to a budget.
We feel hopeful and determined as we excitedly open our new folders, tabs, and planners to get ready for a year of money and time organizing. But honestly, we’ll probably use that fancy label maker or leather-bound organizer more than once. It then ends up stacked in a closet or in a clutter or storage bin in the garage.
If you tend to do this exercise every year, you’re not alone. According to a survey by Fidelity, the most popular New Year’s resolutions are saving more, spending less and paying off debt. However, achieving these goals is easier said than done, and there can be various reasons holding you back. This is where technology can make a difference.
By leveraging the power of apps and other digital tools, you can automate and simplify financial tasks, making it easier to track your performance and improve your overall financial health.
organize, budget, save
Here are some tech-savvy solutions to help you out:
— Is there a mountain of banknotes? Many companies and service providers allow you to set up electronic billing and automatic payments. This helps you avoid late fees (and no paper cuts).
— Don’t have a budget yet? Apps like Mint or Personal Capital can help you see where your money is going. These apps link to your financial accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts, so you can see all your transactions in one place. You can also use these apps to create and track budgets, pay bills, and manage your investments.
Apps like Rocket Money can also help you cancel unnecessary subscriptions and find ways to save money.
— Having trouble saving money? Many banks and investment companies allow you to set up automatic transfers to your savings or investment accounts. You can also use apps like Acorns or Qapital to automatically invest your change, making saving like a game.
— Is investing too complicated? We generally recommend working with a financial planner. But what if you are new to investing and your account size is still too small to use an advisor? In this case, a robo-advisor is an online service that uses algorithms to manage your investments. You can set your investment goals and risk tolerance. A robo-advisor will create a diversified portfolio and automatically make investment decisions for you.
Simplify tax preparation
— Buy a receipt scanner or use an app on your phone or tablet to scan tax documents. (Scanned documents are much clearer than photos taken with a cell phone.)
— Receipt tracking apps like Expensify or Shoeboxed can help keep track of business expenses and receipts throughout the year. This can make it easier to gather all the information you need when filing your taxes.
— Most tax professionals also allow you to sign taxes remotely on your PC, phone or tablet. If you usually have a March or April tax appointment, plan to meet with your professional later in the year when it’s less busy.
— See if your tax professional has a free secure portal to store your tax documents and if they will give you a discount for doing everything electronically.
Tips and Apps for Seniors
— Sites like Eversafe.com help seniors and their loved ones monitor financial accounts for fraudulent activity and identity theft. It will also alert you if it detects unusual account activity or changes.
— The What’s Covered app, provided by the US government, allows you to access your Medicare information and claims, find doctors and hospitals, and get drug coverage information.
— The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) also offers a variety of online financial resources and the AARP Now app for seniors.
— Many banks offer special services for seniors, such as simplified low-cost or no-fee checking accounts and online banking assistance.
Millions of people use the internet every day and they are not victims of identity theft or fraud. However, if you’re new to it, there are a few precautions you should take.
— Use strong, unique passwords for all your financial accounts and don’t share them with anyone (or write them down in a notepad).
— Enable two-factor authentication (if available) to add an extra layer of security to your account. (An example of two-factor authentication is sending a message to your phone or email with a code to verify you’re logging in.)
— Be wary of phishing scams, which are fake emails or websites that try to trick you into giving away your login or other sensitive information. Remember, the IRS and other agencies will not send you notices by email.
— Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown sources.
— Make sure to use a secure connection when accessing your financial accounts, especially when using public Wi-Fi.
— Check that the website you visit has a URL (at the top) with a lock in the left corner and starts with “HTTPS”.
— Use antivirus and malware software.
— Regularly update your operating software and other software.
— be careful about the personal information you share on social media
If you’re new to using technology to manage your finances, start with simple things like setting up automatic bill payments or using a budgeting app. As you become more proficient, you can add more features or try out more advanced tools. Remember, if you get lost, you can start over or hit the home button. Safeguards are in place so it’s hard to screw up.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help to get started with technology and feel confident. Visit YouTube.com for free videos, or visit your local library, community center or Apple Store for a class. (Learning is also a great way to spend time with the young people in your life and keep your mind young and healthy.)
If you made up your mind to be tech-savvy this year, sorting out your finances might not be such a decision next year. You also enjoy the benefit of spending less time on financial tasks.
Michelle C. Herting, CPA, ABV, AEP, specializes in succession and tax planning, trust administration and business valuation. She has three offices in Southern California.