If you needed to put your hands on your spouse or partner’s life insurance policy, would you know where to find it?

Could you easily access the last few months of bank statements for your checking and savings accounts? What about for your retirement accounts, brokerage accounts or even your Christmas club account?

Do you know how many credit card accounts are open and active? Do you know how many pieces of negative information are on your credit history? Do you know what your credit score is?

You might be able to answer “yes” to some of these questions. But the odds are that you can’t answer affirmatively to all of them.

It often seems as if organizing our finances comes last on the Things To Do list. Instead of spending a few minutes each day, or an hour or so each week keeping documents together, we’d rather do almost anything – even clean the garage.

But if you’re going to buy a house or refinance your existing loan this year, you should take the time to organize your finances now. Gather your paperwork together will make it easy to apply for a loan later.

What kinds of documents do you need to apply for a mortgage?

The lender will want to see your financial records, including your most recent tax return. You’ll also need a W2 or pay stub to show what you’re earning. If you’re self-employed, the past two tax returns plus a current profit and loss statement.

And then there are the account statements. The lender may want to see a current statement from each checking and savings account you own.

You should have a current statement from all retirement accounts that you own, including 401(k) plans (past and current), IRAs, Keoghs, and other accounts. If you have any money in non-IRA accounts, such as a brokerage account, you’ll need that statement as well.

If you own other investments, such as stocks or bonds that you hold, rather than having an investment company hold them in an account, you may want to photocopy those assets. Likewise, if you own other property mortgage free, you may want to get a copy of the deed, or other proof of ownership.

Do you get income from anywhere else? If you are the beneficiary of a trust, and receive income from it regularly, the lender may want to see proof of the trust and income, unless you do not need this income to qualify for the loan. Likewise, if you get alimony or child support, you may need to show a loan officer some of your divorce paperwork or at least proof of payment of these funds.

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of collecting all of this information for a loan officer, you’re halfway toward getting your financial life in order. So, why not do the rest?

Gather together all of your insurance policies, including life, auto, health, disability, long-term care, umbrella liability, homeowners, pet and any other policy you own. Make copies of your insurance policies and put the originals in a fire-proof safe or safe deposit box. Keep the copies at home with your other paperwork.

Next, get your estate documents together, including copies of your will, living will, power of attorney for health care, power of attorney for financial matters and any trust documents. You may also want to get any relevant birth, death, marriage, divorce, and child custody or adoption paperwork together as well. Make copies and put the originals with your original insurance policies in the safe deposit box. Keep the copies at home.

Do you know where the titles to your real estate, cars, boats or planes ended up? It would be useful to know, especially since you’ll probably sell a car in the next few years.

Do you have any other loans? Keep the paperwork for any outstanding loans, such as another mortgage or home equity loan, school loan, auto loans, personal loan and business loans together.

If you have any warranties for big-ticket items, it would be helpful to put them together. You should also keep home purchase, sale and capital improvement records together, especially if the potential profit on your home exceeds $250,000 for single homeowners and $500,000 for married homeowners.

Make sure you have a copy of your passport, visa, or green card handy. And for good measure, make a copy of the fronts and backs of all the cards you have in your wallet. That way, should you have your pocket picked, you’ll have a record of what’s missing and how to contact those companies.

Finally, if you’ve already planned your funeral, make sure your funeral arrangements are organized, including the plot documentation and any receipts proving that cash has been paid for future services.

While it sounds as if you’ll need a filing cabinet, most homeowners can fit their information into an oversized three-ring binder.

Published: Jun 10, 2005