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You get your furnace tuned up every fall. You check the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year. Like clockwork, you visit your doctor for your annual physical. But how often do you do the same for your finances?
“A financial checkup is just as important as a physical checkup,” says Karen Ford, a personal finance coach, author and speaker. “Most people have a physical done every year—not because anything is wrong. It’s just a checkup to make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to. A financial checkup is no different.”
Conducting a personal financial review can give you peace of mind—and empower you to tackle common financial challenges as they pop up.
Using the downloadable financial checkup template below as a guide, conduct a review for yourself. But first, let’s explore why it’s important to make time for a personal financial review:
There are several reasons to take time for a personal financial review, Ford says. One is you’ll learn the balances in your accounts, giving you a clear sense of your savings, investments and debt.
This knowledge can help alleviate financial stress, which is a common challenge for Americans. In fact, 53% of Americans say thinking about their finances makes them anxious, and 44% feel that discussing their finances is stressful, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA.1
Another benefit of conducting a regular financial checkup is that you’ll be empowered to improve your financial situation. “You can’t change something unless you know about it,” Ford says. “Once you know about it, you can make the necessary adjustments.”
With these upsides in mind, you’re probably ready to get started! Let’s talk timing:
Ford recommends conducting a personal financial review once a quarter to stay on top of your money.
“If you wait for a year before you do a checkup, you may find some surprises,” she says.
In addition to avoiding unexpected news, reviewing your finances every three months allows you to tackle challenges before they get out of hand (think quickly reining in unnecessary debt or excessive spending).
Doing a personal financial review on a regular basis can also help you proactively address changes in your financial situation. For example, you may have decided to carry a balance on your credit card last quarter, and this quarter you’re equipped to pay off that debt thanks to an increase in your savings.
“A financial checkup is just as important as a physical checkup. Most people have a physical done every year—not because anything is wrong. Itʼs just a checkup to make sure everything is working the way itʼs supposed to. A financial checkup is no different.”
Worried that your financial checkup will be a major time commitment? Don’t be, Ford says.
“A lot of times people avoid doing it because they think it’s going to be a weekend-long financial summit,” Ford explains. “And it isn’t—it only takes 15 minutes to do a financial review.”
On to the nuts and bolts: What do you need to get your personal financial review started?
Before tackling your quarterly checkup, you’ll want to pull together your financial statements and records from the previous three months so you can have a well-rounded view of your finances. Here’s what to track down:
With these documents handy, it’s time to get started with your personal financial review.
So, how do you conduct a financial checkup?
Use the following financial checklist to walk through six steps to complete your personal financial review. You can also download the financial checkup template so you can fill in your own information as you go.
How are you progressing toward your financial goals? Use your financial checklist as an opportunity to closely review the aspects of your finances that are most important to you, as well as the accounts you’re using.
If you’re focused on saving up for a big expense, for example, review the balance in your savings account to see how much you’ve added over the last quarter. Are you on track for your purchase? If not, map out a way to boost your savings for next quarter.
How’s your 401(k) or IRA looking? Don’t be alarmed if you see swings from quarter to quarter—that’s simply how the market works. But do take the long view: At your current rate of saving, are you projected to hit your retirement goal?
If you have other investments beyond retirement accounts, what’s their status? As noted above, you don’t want to overreact to market ups and downs.
Instead, use your financial checkup as an opportunity to consider whether your current mix of riskier investments (think stocks) and safer ones (such as bonds) still meets your needs, Ford says.
Is your coverage still appropriate? As you go through your financial checklist, take a look at your insurance policies. This can include car, health, life and home (or renter’s) insurance. Review your coverage amounts, premiums and deductibles.
Ford says to consider whether your life situation has changed. For example, if you’ve had a child or moved, you’ll likely want to update your coverage.
How’s your credit? Checking your credit report will give you a clear, accurate look at how potential lenders see you. Make sure you’re aware of all your debts and that there are no inaccurate accounts or inquiries made in your name, Ford says.
While you’re going through your quarterly financial checklist, confirm that your personal information such as your name and address are correct. If you do spot a mistake, you can dispute the error.
You can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—once a year. While you may not be able to review a new report each quarter, you can do it three out of the four quarters each year.
You can also check your credit score, which tells lenders about your creditworthiness and is calculated based on information in your credit report. Reviewing your credit score from quarter to quarter might be especially helpful if you are planning on applying for credit.
How much do you have versus what you owe? With a single number, your net worth will give you a big-picture view of your finances that you can track as you complete your personal financial review from quarter to quarter, Ford says.
By running through this financial checklist every quarter, you’ll be able to flag any potential issues and track your progress toward your financial goals. Plus, you’ll get the peace of mind that comes from knowing how you’re doing financially.
The magic of a financial checkup is this: When you know exactly where your savings and debts stand, you can move forward with confidence to strengthen your financial footing.
Now that you know where your money is today, set your sights on the future—starting with next quarter.
Download the financial checkup template as you go step-by-step through your next quarterly review. While you’re at it, learn how to set financial goals so you can make progress by the time of your next review.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
Note: The article also mentions non-deposit investment products. Non-deposit investment products are NOT FDIC insured. The article and information provided herein are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice.
1 Data from The 2018 National Financial Capability Study is ©2021 FINRA. All rights reserved. FINRA is a registered trademark of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. Data reprinted with permission from FINRA.
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