Working from home? It's a great time to complete these 6 financial tasks you've been putting off
An office often isn't conducive to completing sensitive personal financial tasks, like rolling over your old 401(k) or checking in on your investment fees. No one likes checking their credit report with a nosy coworker peeking over their shoulder.
If you find yourself working from home in the coming days and weeks, though, you will have more privacy and space to finally check a few things off of your to-do list. Here are six tasks you may have put off that you can easily accomplish at home.
1. Check your credit report
One of the simplest and least time-consuming tasks you can check off your financial to-do list is to pull your free credit reports and check for inconsistencies.
A credit report tracks information from your various credit accounts, including payment history, late payments and account balances, as well as your public records and inquires into your credit. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three main U.S. credit bureaus, all have credit reports for you, and they may have different information.
Every year, you can check each of the three reports one time for free on annualcreditreport.com or each bureau's website. You should pull a report from a different bureau every few months to make sure everything on it is accurate and that no fake accounts have been set up in your name. If you spot an inaccuracy, you should write a letter disputing it with the credit agency. Here's how to do that.
Your report will also give you a general idea of your credit health, which is always good information to have in case you plan to apply for credit cards or other financial products soon.
2. Ensure your budget aligns with your goals
If you've been working with the same budget for a while now, it's smart to reevaluate it and see if your money is going where you want it to. Ask yourself: Are you saving enough in your emergency fund? Are you investing for retirement? Are you happy with what you're spending your money on?
To figure those things out, pull your credit card and bank statements for the past three (or more) months. If you use an app like Mint to catalog your spending, review the previous months to see how you're allocating your money. You might find some recurring expenses that surprise you, or categories where you're spending less than you originally planned.
Budgets are often idealized versions of our spending; reality can look much different. This exercise can help you tweak yours to more accurately reflect how you actually spend money, while still working toward your savings goals.
If you've never budgeted before, some extra time at home could give you the chance to find one that works for you. Here are two common strategies to try:
- 50/30/20: Earmark 50% of your take-home pay for fixed expenses like rent and groceries, save 20% and dedicate 30% to all of your other discretionary monthly expenses, including spending on entertainment, clothing, new tech, and other things like that.
- Focus on one savings goal, not percentages: Start with a specific goal, such as putting away $5,000 for a vacation. Next, break it down into how much you need to save per month and prioritize setting aside that amount first. Then, as long as you are meeting your other financial responsibilities as well, including paying bills on time and making student loan payments, it matters less if exactly 30% of your spending goes toward non-essentials.
3. Open a high-yield savings account
High-yield savings accounts currently earn around 18 times as much interest as traditional savings accounts, yet many savers do not have one, according to a Bankrate survey. Now's the time to change that.
While rates have been decreasing lately, Marcus by Goldman Sachs and American Express Personal Savings are still offering 1.7% APY as of Friday. Barclays is offering 1.6% as of Friday, and Ally, Capital One and Discover are offering 1.5%.
While you're at it, run an audit on your current banking situation: How much is your bank charging you in fees? Do you have easy access to ATMs when you need them? How's the customer service? If you're unhappy, you can make a more permanent switch to a different institution.
4. Check fees on your investments
You should also make sure that your investments aren't overpriced.
If you are investing primarily in index funds for retirement, as financial advisors recommend, then the expense ratios you're paying should be under 1% and ideally 0.4% or lower, so that you are keeping more of your money. Some brokerages are even offering fee-free index funds.
You don't want to base your investing decisions solely on fees, but there are plenty of quality index funds out there with low expense ratios. You can find out what you're paying by Googling "[name of fund/ticker symbol] + expense ratio," or via the fund's prospectus. Most investment companies also list fees on each fund's information page on their websites.
5. Roll over old 401(k)s
It's easy to put off rolling over your 401(k) when you get a new job. But research shows that leaving 401(k) accounts at various employers can actually lead you to forget about them entirely, particularly if they didn't have a ton of money in them.
Take time now to transfer your old accounts. You can either roll them over into your current employer's plan, if they allow it and you like the investment options and fees, or into an individual retirement account. IRAs "typically have lower fees and more investment choices," certified financial planner Nick Holeman told CNBC Make It.
The steps you need to take to roll over your money won't take longer than half an hour, though it might take a few days for the funds to transfer between accounts. When you log in to your old account, you should have the option to pick a direct or indirect rollover; Holeman recommends direct, meaning your funds are transferred between the two fund companies.
"When you do an indirect rollover, you're the one handling the money, so the 401(k) provider will write you a check and then it's up to you to actually deposit it into the new account," he says. "There's just more that can go wrong, so I typically recommend doing a direct rollover and let the companies handle it."
Here are some other things to keep in mind when you're rolling over 401(k)s.
6. Consider a Roth IRA conversion
A down market can be detrimental to retirement savers' investments, but it does make one strategy more attractive: A Roth IRA conversion.
A Roth conversion involves changing a traditional, pre-tax individual retirement account to an after-tax Roth IRA. It is especially appealing to high-earning individuals who don't qualify for Roth contributions but want funds they can draw from tax-free in retirement.
This isn't a task for everyone, but if you've been considering a conversion, now might be a good time to do it, Garrett Taylor, a chartered retirement planning counselor at Coastline Wealth Management, tells CNBC Make It.
Rather than pay taxes in retirement, investors pay taxes now, when they benefit from the low rates put into place by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the down market.
"Converting traditional IRA assets at depreciated values will save money on tax," says Taylor. "Then clients get the benefit of rebound and appreciation in the Roth IRA."
But remember that converting your funds is considered a taxable event, and you'll owe income taxes come next tax season on the amount you convert. Make sure you have the money necessary to cover those taxes.
If you have money for taxes set aside, "it simply means you are asking the IRS to assess taxes at a much lower market valuation so that you can reclassify that money as Roth money," says Michelle Gessner, a Houston-based certified financial planner. "Then, when the market rebounds, the increased value of that account and all future growth is completely tax-free."
If you decide it still makes sense for your financial situation, here are instructions on how to execute a conversion.
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