Financial Documents: How to Organize Your $h!t

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Richard Davey


In our intake process with new financial planning clients, most couples express that they need help “organizing” financial documents.  While we had a great tabbed and color-coded binder that we provided to everyone who paid us for a financial plan, we often asked in follow up appointments if they were still using it. 

Shocker! Our ongoing customer usage rate with these binders was near 0% after plan delivery. 

In today's day and age, the consumer doesn't have the patience or discipline to store all their information in a filing cabinet or binder. It just takes too long and it's too messy. By the way, this isn’t a shot at my clients and their “lack of follow through”. My wife and I were guilty of the same thing. Our filing system was a joke. Too disorganized, bills were being missed, statements lost, etc.  Some stuff was stored digitally, while other things were haphazardly saved in paper format (usually mounting as a pile on our kitchen counter).

So, we set out to build a system that couples would actually use.

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First, we knew it had to meet some basic criteria: (1) It had to be easy to use, (2) it had to be digital, and (3) it had to be compatible with both iPhone and Android operating systems. Further, consistency was vital.

With some trial and error, we finally came up with a system that has worked well for us over the last few months.  We use two apps. The CamScanner PDF converter, and Google Drive. Both work seamlessly with either phone operating system. Also, we had to “schedule” time to store our info - that’s the whole consistency piece. Now we do it weekly; that is, we inventory our mail and digitally delivered documents and scan/upload it all in bulk every Sunday.

Why We Like CamScanner and What It Does

  • Takes photos and converts them to higher quality PDFs

  • Allows the user to easily take pictures of multiple pages and combine them into one PDF

  • Once PDFs are generated in the APP, sharing the PDF via email or storing in the cloud is incredibly intuitive.

  • Write-On PDF Capability – once you have created your PDF, you can also write on it with your finger. So, for docs that need signatures, you may be able to use it for this process as well (some people may not accept signatures in this format, but you can try).

An example of the CamScanner app with a signature added.

An example of the CamScanner app with a signature added.


Why We Like Google Drive and What It Does

  • Allows for storage in the cloud with controlled access to other users
  • You can share files with people even if they don’t have a “gmail” account.

  • It’s one of the more ubiquitous cloud solutions

  • It pops up easily as a “shareable location” for pictures taken on your phone and those converted to PDF with an app like CamScanner.

Now Everyone's File Structure Will Be a Little Different, But Here's Ours:

  • Tax Documents

  • Home Improvement Receipts

  • Estate Planning Documents - will, trust, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, etc.

  • Employee Benefits - offer letters, stock comp info, retirement notices, etc.

  • Investments - quarterly and annual statements and performance reports

  • Insurance - medical, dental, vision, disability, homeowners/renters, umbrella, etc.

  • Children >> School, Daycare, Other

  • Utilities

  • Medical >> one sub-folder for each member of family

  • Debts >> mortgage, credit cards, student loans, etc.

While all of this may seem obvious, particularly for tech-savvy individuals, it’s amazing to me how few people have a diligent and organized filing system. And I’ll admit, until about 6 months ago, we were guilty too. Committing to this system has changed our lives for the better. And, more importantly, it’s also been good for our marriage.

So, I encourage you, if you are reading this, take this first (and easiest) step toward a successful financial life. Build a document filing system, stick to it, and periodically refine it as circumstances in your life change to make it better.