A personal finance audit can help us gain an understanding of our current money situation, as well as in the construction of long term goals. Read on to learn how you can conduct your first audit, even as a beginner.
If you are new to the world of personal finance and managing your money, perhaps you’ve never done any sort of personal finance audit. Maybe you’ve committed yourself to learning about all things money or have even started this learning journey, but now face your own money with a set of confused, overwhelmed eyes.
This piece will walk you through what you need to complete the first of hopefully many personal finance audits. A personal finance audit is helpful in giving you a macro-level view of your past, present, and future money flow. As first-generation wealth-builders, the more we can do to ensure our success, the better. Conducting an audit and having this set of information will also guide you as you create your SMART dinero goals. Read on to learn what you need to know to complete an easy personal finance audit.
1. Gather Your Account Balances
First on our list is to gather all of our assets, aka things like your checking accounts, savings accounts, or investment accounts. We are doing this to try to identify what your total cash and investments are. Some of your assets might be in cash and easily accessible, others might be inaccessible until a certain age, such as the growth in your retirement accounts. Total these accounts up.
2. Gather Your Debt Balances
Now we are gathering our liabilities, or things like credit card debt, personal loans, student loans, etc. Right now you are only writing things down. Take each of your debt figures, jot it down, write the corresponding interest rate and minimum payment. We will come back to these numbers later.
3. Check Your Credit History
We know the credit reporting industry isn’t fair. The racial wealth gap and the difficulty in wide access to the financial markets has made the credit score an unequal measure of financial health.
But if we do not know anything about this industry, we continue to let it take advantage of us. Your credit score dictates things like interest rates on loans or what properties you can rent.
Some banks give you access to your credit score (Discover and Capital One are two examples). These scores are plenty. But for an in-depth credit report— or if your bank does not offer one—visit annualcreditreport.com, which is promoted by the FTC. From now through April 2021, you can get free weekly credit reports.
Jot down your number and the different points that are impacting your score.
4. Outline Your Expected Income
Now we are starting to get into your weekly or monthly cash-flow, which will help in concretizing your financial goals. Jot down what your net weekly or monthly net income is, whichever you prefer or is aligned with your pay schedule.
5. Reassess Your Debt
By gathering your total assets (Step 1) and your total liabilities (Step 2), you are calculating your net-worth. If you have far more debt than you do assets, maybe it’s time to consider a debt payoff plan. Or maybe your net-worth is actually lower than you thought it would be.
Personal finance is personal. But one thing that remains consistently true: interests rates above 10% are toxic!!! Now consider that most credit cards have an APR (interest) of at least 16% and you’ll understand why your credit card debt is toxic debt. Toxic debt is considered toxic because it eats away at your money. Paying the minimum is not enough. In Episode 66 with Cindy Zuniga, for example, from a total of $24,000 that she paid in one year on her student loans, only $4,000 of that went to the principal amount. The remaining $20,000 was all considered interest payments. That debt was toxic!
Look through your interest rates and highlight the ones you see as very toxic. Use this calculator to see how much interest you would pay for your credit card balances, and use this calculator to see how much you’d pay in interest for loans.
From here, are there any debts you want to start developing a plan to pay off? Check out our piece on the difference between the snowball method and the avalanche method of debt payoff to find out which one is best for you.
6. Reassess Your Savings
When gathering the total amount in assets you had, how much of that was in cash that is easily accessible? If most of your assets are in inaccessible funds, it may be worthy to consider developing or fluffing up an emergency fund. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for emergencies.
Apart from this emergency fund, do you have any savings goals? Do you have any big expenses coming up that you’d like to start saving for? Take some time to create a list of all the ideas you want to save for.
7. Create Your Financial Plan
Now that you have all your numbers gathered, as well as some decision points on debt payoff and savings goals, it’s time to start developing a financial plan. This plan should include:
- Income after necessary expenses, including debt minimums
- Amount of cash left over to work with
- Debt payoff plan of attack
- Savings goals
- Age of retirement (or financial independence)
Integral to this financial plan is understanding your why. Going from 0 to 100 is going to require commitment. Keeping your why close to heart is what will continue pushing us forward.
Conducting a personal finance audit sounds intimidating. It doesn’t have to be that way. While there are other models for conducting an audit that is much more in depth, we created this introductory guide with beginners in mind. Happy planning!