It’s Q&A Thursday! This week I got some great questions about things that establish your financial foundation.
Q1. How do I find out how much money I owe for student loans?
A. You should be getting a monthly or quarterly statement from the holder of your loans. On those should either be the balance or the name of the bank, which you can call and find out from them. Once you have that amount set up an online account with those banks so you can view them at any time and not have to wait for your statement to arrive.
Alternatively, you can go to the National Student Loan Data System for Students, which is a website through the Federal Department of Education that has all student loan information on it. The website for that is nslds.ed.gov. They also have financial counselors who can help with loan consolidation or trying to reduce your interest rate.
Q2. How long should I keep paper copies of bills/taxes/paychecks etc?
A. Conventional wisdom says typically 7 years because that’s how far back the IRS can audit you. If you write off a home office, keep your utility bills for that long, but otherwise, you can shred them after 3 years. This is mostly to help ensure that if they have any payment issues with you, you have a trail of when you’ve receive bills and when you’ve paid them.
2 things about this: In this day and age if you are still receiving paper bills and statements, save yourself some hassle and get paperless. These statements stay around forever so there is no need to find storage space in your house since you can always pop online and find them. And also, if you must still get paper statements, get a scanner and scan them into your computer and save them there. There really is no need to keep paper statements since everything is done electronically now.
And when you do dispose of your paper statements shred them or burn them. The reporter of Marketplace Money speaks lovingly of her and her husband’s annual document disposal fire where they pour themselves some wine and hang out in front of a roaring fire feeding it their sensitive documents.
Q3. How do I transfer my 401k when I don’t have a new job?
A. If you have an old 401(k) through a past job and want to get it out of your old company’s control every single brokerage company offers to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA. You can call companies like Schwab, ING, Vanguard, or Fidelity and they will walk you through the process of rolling over your 401(k).
Q4. Is it too early to start Christmas shopping if I see a great deal?
A. It is never too early to start Christmas shopping if you see a great deal. If you’re trying to play stores by holding out for a better deal as we get closer, this is almost always a losing strategy unless you do that crazy Black Friday thing. So buy your early gifts, just make sure you have a good hiding place.
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