Effortless Finances in Four Easy Steps
(MONEY Magazine) – Wouldn't it be nice to have a personal assistant to pay your bills, file your records and remember to fund your IRA every now and then? Well, if you make more of your financial life electronic, you can (virtually). And by putting money chores on autopilot, you can avoid mistakes and clear the clutter out of your home office, all for little or no cost. Start with the easiest tasks and go from there.
1 Never Cash a Check Again
• Be direct. You probably already have your paycheck deposited in the bank electronically (71% of workers do). If you don't, what are you waiting for? Signing up for direct deposit is one of the easiest ways to land free checking. Don't stop there. You can use direct deposit for lots more than paychecks, including flexible-spending-account payouts, tax refunds and Social Security benefits. With the IRS, that means money back in two weeks.
• How to do it. In most cases, you'll fill out one form at work. (For Social Security, use ssa.gov/deposit.) To receive a tax refund electronically, enter your bank account number on your 1040. New for 2007: File Form 8888, and the IRS will split your refund into three accounts.
2 Never Write a Check Again
• Automate the outgo. Paying bills online saves you time and money. But you'll find this chore even easier if you make regular bills such as your mortgage or gym membership 100% automatic.
• How to do it. The best way to set up a recurring payment is through your bank or by giving the merchant your credit-card number (rather than your bank account information). That way, you control all access to your cash, making it simpler to contest billing mistakes or to stop a payment altogether.
• Tip: Don't bounce a check because you forgot about an automatic payment. Some banks will send you an e-mail alert when your bill is paid.
3 Save Money Without Tears
• Invest bit by bit. Automatic investing is a practically pain-free way to build wealth. By adding money to a mutual fund every paycheck or every month instead of writing a big check at year-end, you are more likely to save. By making a monthly commitment, you may be able to buy a fund with far less than the usual $2,500 minimum.
• How to do it. The ultimate autopilot investment is your 401(k), so this is a good place to start. Many companies now make saving easier by automatically rebalancing your 401(k) or raising your contribution a bit each year. For other investments, such as an IRA or a 529, contact a fund company to arrange for contributions to be transferred from your bank account each month.
4 Get (and Leave) Bills Online
• Stop the mail. As a final step, you can automate--and eliminate--much of your paperwork. Almost any service provider, including your brokerage and creditcard issuer, will replace your paper statement with an online version. The payoff: access to account info 24/7 and less risk that personal information will be lifted from your mailbox.
• How to do it. Sign up at the company's website or find out if your bank offers this service.
• Still want backup? Banks and creditors will let you view between six and 18 statements online. You can often request copies going as far back as seven years.
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