Author: Michael J. Moss, CFP®, Head of Client Services, Senior Managing Director
As we mentioned in our first post in this series, organizing your finances can be hard work, but well worth it in the end. You’ll feel accomplished, much like you would after cleaning or organizing your house.
This post is going to cover the first step in spring cleaning your finances: getting organized. In other words, we will discuss building a balance sheet.
Similar to when you start a cleaning or organizing project, you typically begin with getting everything out to see what you have. Financial planning is no different.
You will need to create a list of all financial accounts, debts, and their recent values. This document is called a balance sheet. Once this summary is complete, you can begin the remaining steps of the planning process.
THE BALANCE SHEET PROCESS
To start building your balance sheet, you simply need to log into every one of your financial accounts. Keep in mind this may require you to set up accounts or reset access for any you have not logged into for a long period of time.
It may help to use a spreadsheet to record all pertinent information, so you can more easily update accounts in the future. There are even balance sheet spreadsheets available for free online that you can download or use as a guide.
Information you should note in this document includes account type and number, financial institution, recent market value, titling, and any special notes. It is ideal to group assets by category, which you can then sub-total or total in your spreadsheet. For liabilities, be sure to record details about each debt including interest rate, monthly payment, maturity date, and any other key details.
Once your balance sheet is complete, a good next step is to identify areas where you can consolidate and simplify. You may have multiple cash accounts that can be combined, or perhaps a 401(k) from a former employer that can be rolled into a current IRA. If you have accounts with multiple custodians (Fidelity, Schwab, E-Trade, etc.), you should migrate them all to one platform to make it easier to track and monitor.
AN ADVISOR CAN HELP
In many cases, it can be simple to gather this information and act on some basic clean-up. However, it can become more challenging for high net worth individuals and families since their financial picture may be more complex.
They may own family businesses or private equity investments that are more challenging to track and value. They may also be more likely to utilize trust and partnership structures to manage a portion of their assets, which add another layer of complexity and administration
For those with complex finances, a professional advisor can take on the burden of creating a balance sheet which can serve as a starting point for any financial planning discussion.
At Clearstead, our Net Worth report serves this purpose and is the first deliverable we prepare for any family as part of our ClearSight process. This ensures that we have complete knowledge of all aspects of the family’s financial picture. This puts us into a position to begin other financial planning deliverables such as cash flow analysis, estate plan review, and insurance assessment.
Ultimately, building a balance sheet is the first step to organizing your finances. Once this is created, it becomes easier to see your total financial picture and will allow you to monitor and update on a regular basis going forward.
The next few posts in our series will build on this process and will cover cash flow planning, estate planning, and insurance review.
Information provided is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice. These materials do not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities. The information provided is from public sources and data available at the time the information was written. Any information provided is subject to change at any time. Clearstead disclaims any liability for any direct or incidental loss incurred by applying any of the information provided. You should consult with a professional before making any investment, tax or legal decisions.
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