AZ asks: How do I organize financial records?



AZ asks: How do I organize financial records?

Dorothy Merchant moved to Greensboro from Ohio. When asked why, she replies, “I was looking for sunshine.” For the most part, she has not been disappointed. This mother of four adult children and grandmother of two is a retired college and university professor and administrator.  She has also worked as the executive director of a non-profit, a business consultant and Realtor before starting Simple Solutions Professional Organizers which provides hands on organizing and consulting services.

In addition to an undergraduate degree in English, Dorothy has a Masters degree in Education, an MBA and a Ph.D.  While she has never been divorced, being widowed at a young age revealed the importance of women having a total understanding of their financial circumstances. Dorothy can be contacted directly at

AZ asks:  What is the best way for me to have the same financial records as my soon to be ex?  Do I have to make copies of everything?

Having accurate, up to date records is always a plus. Depending upon the volume of statements involved, you may want to copy everything. At the very least you need to know names of institutions where the accounts are held and the account numbers. If they are jointly owned accounts, you can request copies of records from the company.

AZ asks: How much of the records of our expenses do I need to keep?

Again, having good records is always a plus in making your case. If you can document that you typically spend, say $1,000.00 a month in clothing and incidentals, it may be easier to convince a judge that $100.00 a month is not adequate for your needs. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea for everyone to keep records of expenses whether anticipating a divorce or not.

AZ asks:  I am overwhelmed with all of the mail that keeps coming in.  Any suggestions on how to handle it?

First and most importantly, handle the mail daily. Don’t put things aside for later. That’s how important deadlines and other important notices slip past you. Set aside time daily to handle the mail. Treat it as a scheduled task. Sort the mail by category. I like to use the acronym RAFT for items to READ, items that require further ACTION, items that need to be FILED and those things that you can TOSS. Cancel subscriptions to catalogs and magazines that you can get on line or no longer read.

AZ asks:  Any suggestions on how to organize my files?

Files can be organized in a number of different ways. Most people use an alphabetical system but others prefer a numerical system. Personal files should be separated from business files.  You can also organize files around broad categories. For example you may have one set of files for everything that has tax implications and another file for things that you need for reference only. You should have files that are used frequently close to your primary workspace while files used less frequently should be stored farther away. Files that are being kept for reference only can be labeled, archived and stored somewhere rather than in your active file drawers. All files should be purged periodically, at least annually.

AZ asks:  Speaking of purging, what things can I safely throw away?

I am frequently asked this question. Not being sure of the answer is one of the main reasons people accumulate paper clutter. Let me answer by listing some of the things that you don’t need to keep. You do not need the insurance policy on every car you ever owned, or every house you ever lived in. The current policy is the only one that you need to keep. You do not need to keep every credit card statement, utility bill and bank statement. You do need to reconcile your records upon receipt of each statement and keep anything that has tax implications. Check with your financial advisor or the IRS to determine how long you need to keep these documents.

AZ asks:  Any suggestions on how to organize my bills that I am being reimbursed by my ex?

Keep them together. They can be kept in a separate file drawer or in an accordion file or even in a decorative box. Due dates should be clearly communicated and a system for reimbursement established. Will the money be deposited in your account? Will a check be sent directly to you?  Will the reimbursement occur each month or will you receive reimbursement checks less frequently. Carefully, note when and how the reimbursement was received by making a note of the date and check number or date of deposit.

Dorothy Merchant is not affiliated with nor endorsed by LPL Financial.

About Ann Zuraw

Ann Zuraw, the voice behind "Chicks, Chat and Change", is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®), and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™). If you have comments on this post contact Ann Zuraw

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