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If, like so many of us, you’ve caught Marie Kondo mania, you may be spending time cleaning closets, sorting the stuff in your spare room and learning how to declutter your life.
But have you considered the positive effects of a digital declutter?
You can take several steps to straighten out your online financial life for increased efficiency, security and even savings. Best of all, these action items only take a few minutes each, and we’ll show you how to stay on top of digital decluttering all year long.
Change your passwords for greater cyber-security and peace-of-mind
The Better Business Bureau – and many technology professionals – used to recommend changing your passwords once a month to keep cyber-criminals from hacking your accounts.
But the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says this is a bad habit that could reduce your cyber-security and put your sensitive information at risk.
Why? If you must change your passwords monthly, you are more likely to get lazy about it and choose easily hacked passwords.
Instead, stick to changing your passwords once a year or when one of the following happens:
- You give your password to someone else for one-time or temporary use and they no longer use the account
- Any one of your accounts is hacked
- You logged into an unsecured wireless network (such as at a library or coffee house)
- One of your accounts has reported a security breach
- One of your mobile devices is lost or stolen
In fact, now is a perfect time to change your passwords, since there is a good chance your passwords may have been stolen in the largest data breach to date. “Collection #1” exposed 772,904,991 emails and 21,222,975 passwords, according to a Gizmodo article.
Encrypted passwords were decrypted, shared to a cloud service, and then posted on a hacking forum. If this sounds bad – it is. Your best defense is to change your passwords now, although if you want to see if any of your information was involved in the breach, you can visit the site HaveIBeenPwned.com. Simply enter your email address and the site will tell you if your passwords have ever been stolen.
You might be surprised by the reputable sites that have experienced breaches in the past decade.
When you change your passwords, you’ll want to make sure you choose secure ones by following these steps.
- Set different passwords for every account. Using the same password for every account may be easy and convenient, but it’s setting yourself up for headaches if any one of your accounts is breached. A single breach could give a hacker access to all your information, including online bank accounts, credit cards, email and more.
- Choose the strongest passwords possible. Select passwords that are a blend of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Rather than choosing words you can find in the dictionary, use a jumble of words and numbers that wouldn’t make sense to anyone but you. Some experts recommend using the first letter of an inspirational phrase or line from a favorite song, and then swapping out some of the letters for numbers.
- Use a system or software to remember your passwords. You’re more likely to choose complex passwords if you have a way to keep track of them all. Apps like 1Password, OneLogin, LastPass, and PasswordBoss remember your passwords for you. Simply save your passwords to the secure app and then login to any website account with one click using the app.
Alternatively, you can create a secure .PDF file and store your passwords on your various devices. Make sure to name the file something other than “passwords,” or a hacker will be able to find it easily. Nest it within multiple folders to make it even tougher for a hacker to discover.
Whatever you do, don’t write down your passwords or store them in your browser. Set your browser to clear cookies when you exit and don’t click “yes” when your favorite sites ask you if you’d like to save your login for next time.
Review Your Credit Card Limited Time Offers
Once you’ve completed the first phase of your digital declutter, it’s time to consider ways you might be wasting money – or missing out on great offers – in your online financial life.
Study your credit card accounts to be sure that you’re maximizing your rewards.
Review your accounts to ensure you’ve opted in to receive bonus points in specific spending categories for credit cards like Chase Freedom®.
If you have any limited time offers, such as receiving a $250 welcome bonus as a statement credit when you spend $1,000 in the first three months with Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you’ll want to make plans to be sure you meet that minimum spend.
Similarly, look to make sure that low introductory interest rates for balance transfers aren’t set to expire. If they are, you’ll want to decide on a plan of action to pay off the card or transfer the balance to a lower interest credit card.
Track Your Rewards So You Don’t Miss Out
Once you’re done reviewing your credit cards, log into each of your credit card rewards, travel rewards and gas rewards programs to determine if you have points that may be expiring or if your account may be cancelled due to lack of activity.
Consider using a free program like AwardsPro to track and manage your rewards programs. The free version of the app displays expiration dates of three programs at one time and sends notifications when your rewards are about to expire.
The enhanced version, available for $30/year, lets you track expirations on an unlimited number of accounts and includes analysis tools to help you make the most of your rewards.
Cancel Subscriptions You Don’t Use
While AwardsPro can help you make sure you aren’t leaving money on the table, other apps can save you money each month by tracking unused programs and subscriptions that are costing you cash each month.
Connect Truebill to your bank and/or credit card accounts and it will show you a list of recurring payments and monthly subscriptions. Do you really need to pay for extra Dropbox storage? Is Amazon Prime worth it now that the price has increased?
Take a few minutes to review your subscriptions and recurring charges and see where you can trim costs. Budgeting apps like Mint provide the same feature, along with helping you manage your money by showing you where – and how much – you are spending each month, whether it’s interest charges on your credit cards or dining out.
As Marie Kondo advises with real-world clutter, if a program or a subscription doesn’t bring you joy (or rewards) it may be time to let it go.
Go on a Saving Spree in 2019
As you embark on your “digital declutter” undertaking, there is one thing you want to try to save in 2019: your cash. You can set nearly any online banking app to shuffle money from your checking to your savings account automatically every month, but there are a few apps that turn savings into a game.
WinWinSaving taps into our gambling instinct – but instead of paying “the house” you can save for one. Download the app, connect it to your bank account, and schedule automatic savings. The money you put into your own savings account gives you credits to play games where you can earn real cash. The more you save, the more money you can earn, and it all goes straight into your connected savings account.
Long Game, available for iOS and Android, operates on a similar premise. In addition to earning coins that you use to play games and (potentially) win up to $1 million, you can also earn three different kinds of cryptocurrency.
If you are the type of person who often pays money to play games on your phone, this is a great exciting gaming experience, because you’re paying yourself.
Stay on Top of Your Digital Declutter Efforts All Year Long
Just as you may be inspired to declutter your life and your home in 2019 to feel lighter and less stressed, getting in on the digital declutter trend can help you feel more secure online and in your financial life.
Take a few minutes to get your online life in order, then use your favorite apps to stay on top of your spending and saving all year long.
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