Tips for Cutting through the Clutter offers advice for organizing your financial life

(ARA) - Even if you're determined to organize your financial life, it's easy to get lost trying to figure out, and then master, all the personal organizers and electronic gadgets that are supposed to make it easier. Meanwhile, that stack of unattended paperwork multiplies like dust bunnies behind a desk.

"In this day and age, you can manage the chaos or the chaos can manage you," says Randy Schuldt, vice president with, a Web site for the three out of four Americans who hate financial planning. "Throw in a tendency to procrastinate on money matters, and an undesirable situation only gets worse."

Disorganization and procrastination can be difficult behaviors to reverse, but it's worth the effort (and money in your pocket) especially when it comes to avoiding late fees. Taking just a few steps can reduce stress and lead you on a path toward financial peace of mind. offers the following tips to help you cut through the clutter:

Take this tax form and shove it

Most self-respecting taxpayers dread tax season, and the Form 1040 arriving is usually the first sign that it's here. You can count on receiving a heap of tax-related mail starting in January. recommends you shove all that taxing paperwork in the same file folder so it's out of sight, yet easy to find when you're ready to deal with taxes (on or before the April 15 deadline). Don't buy a special file. Don't scan all the documents for systematic filing on your computer. Don't lose sleep debating whether information for the Schedule A&B should be alphabetized under "A" or "B." Just find a manila folder and shove everything into it.

Make non-monthly bills a non-factor

Do certain expenses sneak up and bite you in the budget? Bills for auto insurance, car registration, property taxes and homeowner's insurance have sharp teeth, but they don't need to draw blood. Simply add up anticipated expenses, divide the total by the number of paychecks you receive and have that amount automatically deposited in a savings account.

Auto pay is the way

You've resisted paying your bills through electronic debit because you like to "control" what gets paid and when. Strange how that "control" can lead to frustration when you forget, or worse, result in blips on the credit rating screen if you're late. Direct payment plans are free, safe and easy to establish. Plus, they eliminate the cost of mailing checks and free up some bill-paying time. Mortgage companies, utilities and even credit card companies are anxious to help you get started.

"While you're at it," Schuldt adds, "start using direct deposit for your paycheck. If you don't have to scurry to the bank or ATM every payday, you're making progress."

Two cards may be better than none

If you have more credit cards than you can count, how can you possibly keep track of all the due dates, minimum payments, annual fees and interest rates? Get rid of all your cards except two. Make one a debit card -- it works with ease like a credit card, but the amount you spend is deducted from your checkbook balance. (Look, mom! No late fees!) Only use a second card if you must carry a balance, but don't make new purchases with it. If your credit card debt is too big to consolidate on one card, organizational peace of mind may not be your top financial priority.

Forms over function

Maybe you're putting off getting organized because you don't have the tools that would make it a manageable process. has a variety of easy-to-use, interactive forms that will help you track spending, create a budget, inventory your finances, keep all your contact information in one place and much more. Storing and updating the forms online can be an easy way to minimize messy paperwork.

What to keep and what to toss

For some people, getting organized simply involves dumping paid bills, bank statements and other financial documents in the circular file or running them through the paper shredder. The purging process may have a cleansing effect, but you're certain to throw out records you should have kept. It's safe to toss paid utility bills after one year. Keep monthly bank and other financial statements, including income tax returns, for three years.

Store wills, trusts, powers of attorney, birth, marriage and death certificates, adoption and custody papers, investment records, insurance policies, car titles and property deeds in a safe place (as in, not in that pile of bank statements). It can take months to replace lost originals, and the resulting frustration will far outweigh the effort of being organized enough to know where they are. Scanning documents into your computer will work for quick reference, but won't make them legally useful. You're still going to need the originals.

Stuff your stuff in a shoebox

Account aggregation is an intimidating phrase you may have heard in conversations about getting organized. Basically it's a service that allows you to track an unlimited number of online accounts in one place. calls its account aggregation tool My Shoebox Online because it's as safe as that shoebox you hid treasures in as a kid. Data from Web sites is collected, summarized and delivered to your personal account, which you access using just one password. You can track your airline miles, e-mail or cell phone accounts, checking, savings, credit card, brokerage accounts and more. Talk about convenient, secure and private -- even the dust bunnies won't be able to invade it.

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR'S NOTE: For More Information, contact Maclaren Latta, Carmichael Lynch Spong, (612) 375-8570, or Stephen Dupont, Carmichael Lynch Spong, (612) 375-8525,

About is a Web site that's already helped more than 2.2 million people who hate financial planning make sense of their personal finances through fun, friendly, easy-to-understand content and financial planning tools. The Web site was developed by ReliaStar Financial Corp., a member of the ING Group.

About ING Group

ING Group is a global financial institution active in the fields of insurance, banking and asset management, with more than 100,000 employees in 65 countries. ING provides a full range of integrated financial services for its clients through a variety of distribution channels. In the United States, ING's product and service portfolio includes banking, fixed and variable annuities, investment management, life insurance, mutual funds, personal finance education seminars, and trust services. For employers, ING businesses also offer a full range of retirement and other worksite benefits, including group insurance products. For more information, visit

Securities available through PrimeVest Financial Services, Inc., Member NASD/SIPC. Carmichael Lynch Spong is not affiliated with PrimeVest Financial Services, INC. and is not a member of the ING Group.


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