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How to nail your life admin
Debts, super, tax, insurance... Now’s the time to sort your life admin.
In the usual rush of daily life it’s easy to let basic life admin tasks slip. There always seems to be something more pressing – or appealing – to do than setting a household budget, sorting your tax receipts, wrangling your debt or organising a will. Yet neglecting these basics could end up costing you thousands of dollars as the years roll by.
Now that global events have forced most of us to cull our outside commitments, personal finance guru and author Noel Whittaker says it’s the perfect opportunity to get your affairs in order. It’s easier than you think and the pay-off can be considerable.
We asked Noel and other experts to share their tips for getting on top of life admin.
How to get on top of your life admin
Do a budget
Fed up with wondering where your money goes and why you never have enough? Noel Whittaker says becoming financially secure is not a matter of earning more money, but using the money you have in a better way.
“You would be amazed at the number of high-income earners who are in serious strife right now, just because they spend more than they earn,” he says. “The only way to make the best of your income is to draw up a budget.”
Keeping track of household income, essential bills and discretionary spending will provide a reality check of your financial situation and help you set achievable financial goals. Most of us are aware of our big-ticket expenses, such as mortgage payments and utility bills, but it’s easy to underestimate what we spend on incidentals such as daily coffee or takeaway lunches until you see it all written down. A daily $4 latte five days a week adds up to more than $1000 over a year.
Make a start by downloading a budget planning template from the web, or install a budgeting app on your phone. Go back through your credit card statements and receipts to check what you’ve been spending on over the past year, then record every purchase over the next 30 days – every coffee and packet of chewing gum. Most banks offer free apps that will help you track your spending or set spending limits.
Compare what you’ve spent with what you’ve earned, and if money out exceeds money in, ask yourself honestly which expenses you can reduce or eliminate. If your income does exceed expenses, consider setting up a separate bank account and having that amount automatically paid into it from your salary. Better still, divert that extra money into a mortgage offset account to reduce your monthly repayments, or if you don’t have a mortgage, ask your employer to pay that sum directly into your super account through salary sacrifice, thus saving tax.
Consolidate your super
If you’ve had more than one job in your lifetime you may have money sitting in multiple superannuation accounts with multiple different fund managers. What you may not realise is that each fund will be deducting regular administration fees from your account balance. It mightn’t seem like a big deal now, but those fees add up over the decades, leaving you with thousands of dollars less to live on in retirement. Online investment adviser stockspot.com.au estimates that consolidating four accounts into one could save you as much as $30,000 in fees between the age of 35 and retirement. As an added bonus, a single super account means less paperwork and makes it easier to keep track of your retirement savings
Consolidating your super is easy via the Australian Tax Office. Simply go to the super section and select ‘transfer super’ to see all your super accounts. You can then transfer money from one account to another.
But beware, it’s worth seeking advice from a licensed financial adviser before deciding on which fund you want to put your super into. The best account for you may not be the one with the highest balance. You might be better off with a completely new fund. Chris Brycki, head of stockspot.com.au, says to look for funds that have management fees of less than one per cent.
And be sure to check if you have any life, disability or income protection insurance through a super account before closing it. If you change funds, you might not be able to get the same cover, especially if you are aged 60 or over, or have a pre-existing medical condition.
Make a will
According to 2018 research, more than 50 per cent of Australian adults don’t have a will. That’s a sobering thought, given that dying without a legally binding will could mean loved ones are left in the lurch as your estate takes longer to settle or is distributed according to intestacy laws rather than your wishes. According to the finder.com.au research, many people just hadn’t gotten around to organising a will, but a large proportion believed they didn’t have enough assets to justify the effort. But most people have assets of some kind that could benefit those we leave behind.
Organising a will doesn’t have to be hugely time consuming or expensive. While the experts recommend you consult a solicitor or estate planner, especially if you have complex financial or family affairs, there are online services that can help you prepare a will for a couple of hundred dollars. Even a DIY will kit, which can be downloaded from the State Trustees for little more than $30, is better than no will at all. But don’t think that scribbling your wishes on a piece of paper and keeping it in your desk drawer will suffice. By law a will is considered valid only if it is signed on every page by you, dated and witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries.
Remember, once you have prepared a will it’s important to store it in a safe place – consider a bank safe-deposit box or depositing it with the Registrar of the Supreme Court – and ensure your loved ones or executor know where it’s kept.
Check your insurance
It’s well worth taking the time to review your home contents insurance policy and make sure your assets are sufficiently covered. As we accumulate possessions over time, many of us neglect to increase the value of our cover, and risk being underinsured should disaster strike. Now more than ever, many people are working from home using expensive computer equipment that may not be covered by their contents insurance.
The easiest way to estimate how much cover you need is to use an online calculator, such as RACV’s home and contents tool.
You’ll be surprised at how much things add up. You may also want optional extras such as accidental damage inside the home or motor fusion insurance to cover electrical burnouts in major appliances.
Tackle your tax
Few of us enjoy doing our tax returns, but neglecting to do so can result in fines. The trick is to keep on top of your records and receipts throughout the year rather than running around trying to find pieces of paper in your desk drawer the day before your return is due. To help make things easier, the ATO has created the myDeductions app for individuals and sole traders to help record expenses and deductions as you go along, as well as vehicle trips, and if you’re a sole trader, your business income. You can also use it to store photos of your invoices and receipts. When the time comes to do your tax return you simply email your data to your tax agent or, if you’re doing your own tax return, upload the data to prefill your return on your myGov account.
Now that so many people are working from home, the ATO has also introduced a new shortcut, allowing individuals to claim 80 cents per work-from-home hour for expenses between 1 March and 30 June 2020.
Compare energy plans
Lynne Gallagher, chief executive officer of Energy Consumers Australia, says many Australians are bracing for bill shock over winter due to working from home.
Getting the best possible deal from your energy provider can be as simple as contacting your retailer. Lynne estimates that typically, Victorians can save $330 a year by getting the best possible energy deal available.
While the state government has introduced a set default offer or ‘fair’ electricity price to help protect consumers, it is possible to get a better deal still by shopping around and asking your current provider for their best offer.
If you’re concerned about paying your bills, contact your energy retailer. They are obligated to support people in difficulty. Explain you’re having trouble paying your bill and ask what they can do to help. Alternatively ask them to put you on their hardship program or ask whether you’re eligible for a government concession or other assistance for people impacted by COVID-19.
Credit card fees
Just as it pays to shop around to get the best electricity price, it’s worthwhile shopping around to find the best credit card. While interest rates are at an all-time low, rates on credit cards remain high, with at least one major bank charging more than 20 per cent per annum. If you have a $2000 balance on a credit card with 20.49 per cent interest rate, switching to a card with a rate of 9.99 per cent will save you around $1500 in interest payments over three years.
If you’re unhappy with the fees and interest charged by your bank, it’s worthwhile contacting them and telling them you’re thinking of switching. Come armed with a handful of competitive quotes from different banks and very often your bank will make a better offer to keep your business. If they won’t budge, consider switching banks – it’s a relatively easy and quick process that can save you thousands of dollars. It’s also worth asking about ‘no-frills’ basic products with cheaper fees and charges. They may have lower credit limits and other restrictions but switching could save you thousands of dollars in fees and interest.
But when shopping around between banks, beware of special deals designed to entice customers. Zero-interest periods may look tempting but read the fine print to check what the interest rate jumps to after the honeymoon period is over. As a general rule, be wary of any credit-card rate above 12 or 13 per cent. Similarly, be wary of cards offering rewards points, which can often be very poor value. A CHOICE investigation of 63 rewards credit cards found that people would need to spend at least $2000 a month on their card to get any return, while those who spent $1000 a month or less would pay more in annual fees than they got back in rewards.
Safeguard your documents
RACV’s trade manager home security Dean Rossi says some personal documents have a great amount of your information and when documents are combined, they can tell quite the story about you.
When you contact your bank or mobile phone provider, they ask questions to verify your identity such as full name, address and date of birth. This information isn’t hard to find from a handful of your personal documents. If a burglar steals your personal documents it not only causes inconvenience, such as having to replace your passport, they can steal your identity and commit a range of crimes that can have a massive financial impact.
Keep simple documents like phone bills in a lockable filing cabinet but for sensitive documents, such as passports, birth certificates, wills, deeds etc, invest in a small personal safe. Shred unneeded documents and where possible opt for digital statements via email. Keep backups of your most important documents by scanning them and storing them in the cloud or on a USB stick that you keep in the safe.
It’s good to tell someone you trust where your documents are and how to access them in case you’re away from home and need information.
And if you’re struggling
Kane Johnson, a financial counsellor with the National Debt Helpline, says it’s important to prioritise your money to ensure you pay for your essential items, such as food and rent or mortgages, while other debt can be dealt with later.
- If you can’t afford everyday necessities, such as food, there is help available.
- If you can’t afford to pay your debts, contact your bank or credit provider and ask for payments to be put on hold and ask for interest and fees to be waived.
- You may be eligible for government grants to help you pay your utilities and rent.
- Ensure that all relevant concessions are applied to your utility accounts and ask if you are on the cheapest possible offer.
- The National Debt Helpline has free financial counselling. Call 1800 007 007 or visit ndh.org.au.
The advice provided in this story is general in nature and individuals should seek professional advice from an independent licensed investment advisor before making decisions about financial affairs.