To ring in the New Year, CNBC Select is posting a new money challenge each day for the first week of 2021. Think of these tasks as your financial deep clean, based on expert advice, to help you align your money choices with what you care about most. These are simple tasks, but they do require a commitment. Are you in?
This is day one of seven.
Up first: Before you can go where you want to, you have to know where you stand. Finding your net worth is the first step in our financial challenge. In simple terms, net worth is just a number that shows the relationship between how much you have in the bank and how much debt you owe.
"The first step is to figure out where you're at," Personal Capital expert Michelle Brownstein, CFP tells CNBC Select. You can easily calculate this in just 30 minutes — or a few hours — depending on how many financial accounts you have in your name and how long it takes you to collect the info.
To find your net worth, you take the value of your assets (how much you have in checking, savings, investment and retirement accounts, plus the estimated value of any properties you own) minus your liabilities (aka your debts, which includes credit card, student loans, mortgage, car loans, etc.). This can easily be calculated using a pencil and paper, a spreadsheet or even a free app.
To calculate your net worth, add up your total assets, then subtract your liabilities.
Assets - liabilities = net worth
Platforms such as Personal Capital and Mint make it easy to calculate your net worth by giving you the option to link all of your accounts, including checking, savings, money markets, CDs and retirement accounts. If you have a lot of small IRAs and old, unused accounts with a few hundred bucks floating around, you can link them all to the platform of your choice and see how much they add up to be in total.
"It's really sitting down and saying, 'How much do I have on the asset side?' So that could be how much you have in a checking account, a 401(k), etc. If you own real estate, how much is it worth?" says Brownstein.
Linking your bank accounts to an aggregation tool like Personal Capital and/or Mint also lets you link and view your liabilities so that you can track debt payoff and watch your net worth grow with time.
If you prefer the pencil-and-paper approach, or like to make your own spreadsheets for these kinds of things, just make a list of every financial account you have in your name. Calculate the total balances (the ones in both the positive and negative), and see what the total is.
The final result is your net worth.
Don't make the mistake of confusing your self worth with your net worth. If the number you land on is lower than you'd prefer, congratulate yourself for doing the work, being honest and knowing exactly where you stand. You can't set any goals until you know where you're starting from.
"Don't be disheartened by where you are today," says Brownstein. "Taking that first step is so important for just figuring out where you stand. I think sometimes we put it off because we're worried about what that number tells us. But pushing it off only makes it harder to do it later."
It's never too late to calculate your net worth and start setting goals for the future. From there, you can move on to the next steps in our 2021 financial challenge.
While net worth looks at your overall finances, your credit score shows lenders how reliable you are at borrowing and paying back money. Credit monitoring services help you track your debt accounts and stay alert to fraud that could damage your score.
CNBC Select ranked the top six services, and CreditWise® from Capital One ranked as the best overall free program. IdentityForce® ranked as the best overall paid program for extensively monitoring your information on a variety of sites and services, including the dark web, court records and social media.