4 Ways to Clean Your Financial House

The end of the year is an ideal time to get organized and save.

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The end of the year is a fantastic time to take a look at your finances and do some of the quick financial cleaning you've been putting off all year. You've probably accumulated quite a bit of financial "stuff" over the last year and clearing it out before the calendar flips will help you keep your finances in better shape.

You might be swamped with holiday shopping or spending time with the relatives but a few moves here or there can really have an impact on your finances. Many of these ideas can be done incrementally and none require a significant amount of time (perhaps at most an hour to review a credit report), so you can sneak a few things here or there when you have a moment.

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Go Electronic & Shred Statements

I know a lot of people who keep every statement from every financial institution they work with. For years, before so many companies went electronic, I kept paper statements in a banker's box beside my desk. I'd receive a credit card statement, scan it for errors, and stick it into the box. It wasn't until years later that I realized that saving those statements was completely unnecessary. Lately, I've been scanning all my financial documents and saving them to a portable hard drive (and backing it up). This lets me shred and recycle my old statements without the fear I might need them in the future (here's a rundown of how long you should keep financial documents).

Close Unnecessary Accounts

Last year I realized that I had a lot of online savings accounts I really didn't need. I opened them because I was chasing high interest rates but those rates went away as we slugged through the economic crisis. In the last year, I've closed over half a dozen online bank accounts and I've never looked back. By closing down these accounts, I reduced the number of accounts I had to manage and didn't lose a dime in the process. Don't stop there. Start simplifying as much of your financial life as possible and you'll find that things will be much easier to manage. If you don't plan on getting a loan in the next year or two, start canceling unnecessary credit cards too.

[Visit the U.S. News My Money blog for the best money advice from around the web.]

Check Your Credit Report & Score

If you haven't checked your credit reports lately, now is as good a time as any to review them and fix any errors you spot. By law, you can get your reports for free from AnnualCreditReport.com. The three bureaus will try to sell other services to go with it, like credit monitoring, but you can ignore their pitches and get your report for free. If you're especially enthusiastic about your credit, you can always get a free FICO credit score by signing up for a free trial service, like at MyFICO.

Plan or Review Your Estate

It's uncomfortable to think about but now is the time to plan your estate, while you're healthy and in the proper frame of mind. It's important to create and update your will or trust, put together a living will and financial power of attorney, and make sure everything is in order. Reviewing these things once a year will ensure you have the most up to date information and helps protect you and your loved ones in the future. So take a few minutes, perhaps now, to do some of these!

Jim Wang writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.com. When he's not tackling money issues, he's usually looking forward to his next vacation and writing about it at Wanderlust Journey.