“Hilariously, it is all on the back of a yellow envelope that I have been stashing in a drawer for six years, scribbling out and updating as needed,” said Ostergren, a 51-year-old counselor in private practice in Salem, Oregon.
Ken Hoyt, a certified financial planner with Perennial Advisors in Westford, Massachusetts, says a good first step is to simply make a list of the types of accounts you have, grouped by type of institution: banks, investment accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance accounts.
For each, you’ll want to write down the name of the bank or company, your account number, user name and password. “Try to take a small bite, and you’ll do more than you expected.”
Your goal could be getting your banks in one place on a spreadsheet. “Next day, add the investment accounts,” Hoyt said.
Make sure to work out a method to let your loved ones know where you’re storing the information, Hoyt says.
You must specify how someone else can access it. It’s not enough to have everything in a safe deposit box; someone has to be able to find the key or the password to get in.
Have a paper equivalent for information stored digitally. “Think about digital obsolescence,” Kirk said. “I have T-shirts from the ’90s, books from the ’60s.”
When it comes to technology, he says, nothing in his house is more than 5 years old. “Using a brand-new account management tool can be helpful for us day to day but may not be that helpful 15 or 20 years from now.”
In other words, you may not want to store your valuable financial data on the Myspace of password managers.
Christina Barnes-Parker, 44, of Venice, Florida, crosses out old passwords when they need updating in a Day-Timer. “I told my husband no thief would steal that old thing from the house,” she said.
Hoyt said he also likes a 1-inch binder that can easily be edited and rearranged.
Ostergren started her envelope about six years ago. “The reason I’ve kept it so long is, the envelope is yellow, so I can find it easily,” she said. “It’s covered in coffee rings. It has the financial accounts, our bill-paying accounts, my Yahoo and Google passwords.”
It may seem like an on-the-fly arrangement, but it works for her family. “My husband would know where to find this,” Ostergren said. “I’m the one who pays all the bills.
“If someone needed to know anything, from the HBO Go password all the way to the Schwab account, they’re all there.”
In your ICE binder, have an index card that says where you keep any important information on your computer (what drive, what the file name is). Since the Excel file should be password-protected, you’ll also want to indicate that password. You might consider using a code, such as your third cousin’s middle name or place where you and your spouse had the first date.
You don’t have to remember all those passwords. For a fairly low cost — a monthly $3 for one user — a password manager app stores your passwords securely. You can share passwords with other users (family members or a trusted friend) for a small extra monthly fee.
Hoyt estimates that the average person has about 15 accounts, not including shopping sites such as Amazon. The total time to sit down and consolidate all your information for these accounts?“Maybe two hours total,” Hoyt said. “That’s the maximum.
“It’s really not that long — it’s just sitting down and getting started,” he added. “Like with most things, that’s always the hardest part.”
Disclosure: Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow. is a financial wellness and education initiative from CNBC and Acorns, the micro-investing app. NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.