Retire Well

How to clean up financial clutter

Key Points
  • Financial clutter has a way of piling up, except in this case, it's worth something to sort it out.
  • Here 's how to take charge and create a fresh financial strategy.
Clean out your financial garage

Unless you're Jay Leno, your garage is probably a mess.

From sports equipment to gardening supplies, clutter has a way of filling up the space where a car should be.

The same goes for financial clutter, which is just as easy to lose control of. Except in this case, it's worth something to sort it out.

So if you're ready to roll up your sleeves and clean house — financial or otherwise, here's how:

1. Take a look at your financial plan

Many financial advisors recommend starting here first. At a minimum, the plan should review your retirement, education funding, estate planning, risk management, asset management and emergency fund strategies, according to Lawrence Sprung, president of Mitlin Financial in Hauppauge, New York.

Yet no matter how cohesive, these plans don't function well on cruise control. Revisiting your plan is vital to keeping it viable, including updating your financial status and whom you've designated as beneficiaries of assets such as IRAs.

2. Review old investments — and look for missing money

After the dramatic market run-up and turbulence that followed, there's no better time to rebalance portfolios and reassess risk.

Advisors with clients who are near retirement or who have short-term goals are recommending that they keep a chunk of their savings in cash, certificates of deposit and high-quality short-term bond funds.

Otherwise, stay invested in stocks for the long term and diversify the mix of stocks and stock funds in your retirement, college savings plans and other accounts.

Speaking of other accounts, check on any (possibly forgotten) 401(k)s from previous jobs. More than 27 percent of employees leave money in their old qualified retirement plans, according to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

3. Revaluate your insurance coverage

Even if you already have a life insurance policy, it could be a fraction of what you need to protect children or other dependents.

Consider what's the right amount for you, given your current circumstances, then weigh whether you want to buy additional coverage through work or shop for your own individual term life insurance, a move many advisors recommend.

And while you are cleaning out the garage, so to speak, check your auto insurance policy as well, particularly if you're an empty nester and your kids no longer drive your car.

4. Update your estate plan

Anyone with assets, including a 401(k) or savings account, and that home with its garage and all its contents, should think about how those possessions will be distributed one day.

Nearly three-quarters of all Americans said estate planning is confusing. Only 40 percent have a will and just 17 percent have a trust in place, according to the WealthCounsel's estate planning awareness survey, which means that many are not properly protecting themselves and their families.

So loop in a financial advisor, accountant and other professionals who can help coordinate what needs to be done for your loved ones down the road.

More from Retire Well:
How to keep your kids from blowing their inheritance
Here's what to do if your life insurance is about to expire
Pay down these 3 debts now to save your retirement