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This is a guest post by Matt Williams, who is a blogger and an unapologetic fighter of medical billing mistakes. He offers tips and resources for help with medical bills at sickandbroke.com
How to organize bills (even if you’re a mess)
Bills, bills, bills. They are overwhelming. Every day they continue to pour in and every month you will likely receive a power bill, gas bill, your mortgage or rent, water bill, internet and cable bill, and phone bills – and that’s the least of it. How do most people handle it? How do you handle it? I know. I know what you do.
We all have that location in our kitchen, car or office. That spot where we collect the mail in the pile. We tell ourselves that we will organize it, but we just create a new pile until we have the paper version of Mount Everest.
I am going to give you some tough love right now: if you do this, you are a mess. That is right, you are a mess and you need help. You are not doing yourself any favors, and it’s time for you to get it together so you can pay your bills on time and become more organized.
Quit telling yourself that you will take care of it later
Tomorrow never comes – here are some simple steps to help you get organized right now.
- Store incoming mail in a central location.
- Have a work space to review your bills.
- Schedule regular time to pay bills.
- Track your bills manually or with software.
- Scan printed documents to digital.
- Store your files away.
- Prepare for tax time.
Let’s walk through the process:
Give your mail a home.
This may seem incredibly simple, but it must become a habit for you. Whether you get paper or electronic bills, find a centralized location for both.
When you receive electronic bills, or e-bills, you can save as PDF or print to PDF and save to a file folder. Ideally, you are using cloud storage like OneDrive, Dropbox or Google Drive to sync your files seamlessly between your computers and smartphone.
For your printed bills and mail, keep basket or a box in your office, kitchen or another work space (one like this works great). It is okay to let it collect and you will likely open it the day you receive it, but you should set a time to review and address your bills more thoroughly.
Find a space.
If you do not have one already, you will need to find a space to carry out your accounting. In the least you will need a table or desktop, notepaper, sticky note pads, a calculator, a good pen and a storage system such as a filing cabinet or three-ring binder and hole punch.
The best option for bill tracking and payment at your fingertips includes a computer and smartphone. If you can, try to carve out a small workspace for this purpose. Don’t have a lot of room? Consider a corner or fold-down desk.
Find a time every week that works for you to sit down, and review and pay your bills. Make sure this time is quiet and uninterrupted so you can complete your task. Scheduling weekly time builds a habit and ensures that you do not miss a bill.
You can also schedule your bill payment time to sync with your paycheck. This works for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments, but will be difficult if you have longer pay periods with your employment. Avoid going longer than a month to schedule your time in to pay bills.
Another option for scheduling bills is to organize them by due date. Some people use a calendar to do this. Another option is to keep a folder or accordion file with each day of the month and pull the bills for payment when you have the funds available to make payments.
Each time you pay your bills, you should also look to reconcile your previous payments to confirm they have cleared your account and review your accounts for any suspicious activity.
Track your bills.
Make sure you use a spreadsheet or service, such as You Need a Budget or Mint, to organize and track when your bills are due. These services help you to have a comprehensive look at your personal finances and remind you of your bill due dates. When you have an influx of utility bills, loan payments, mortgage and medical bills, it can be quite difficult to keep track of everything. The bonus of using a personal finance tracking software is that they can also help you to save money!
Another tool you can use to track and manage your bills is online bill payment through your bank or credit union. These services frequently offer the option to categorize your bills, add reminders and even auto-payment scheduling.
Scan to digital.
You should already have your e-bills stored in a safe location on your computer or cloud storage, but you’ll need to make sure you add your printed bills also. This can be a part of your regularly scheduled bill organization.
Ideally, you have a printer with a feed scanner, but you don’t need one! There are play of apps available that will allow you to scan documents from your phone. You may even find that your financial management software includes this service.
Keep it in order.
When you have paid your bills, mark them as paid on your tracking software or spread sheet, and store away your bills.
For printed bills, mark your payment date, method of payment and amount paid on the bill, and notate in your spreadsheet or finance software. You can file them away in a cabinet with file folders, put them in a binder with divider tabs or magazine holders. I like to use magazine holders for filing so I can easily see everything on the bookshelf.
For digital files, note the date paid, method of payment and amount paid in your spreadsheet or tracking software. Make sure you have your filenames and folders organized chronologically or alphabetically so you can easy locate the documents you need when you need them. Sometimes it is a reference to confirm you made a payment or in other instances, like when you need to provide verification for a flexible spending account expense, you will need to pull a medical bill to confirm it was a valid charge.
Prepare for Tax time.
For files or documents that you will need a tax time, make sure you flag them or save them for easy reference later. For example, you will probably want to keep a singular medical bill file to deduct those costs at tax time.
I would love to hear about your bill organization tips! Please visit me at sickandbroke.com where if you sign up for my free newsletter, you’ll receive my ebook “7 Proven Ways to Manage Medical Bills” as my gift to you!