First, the documents you’ll need:
- Tax returns and W-2s
- Pay statements or stubs
- Bank statements, deposit tickets, canceled checks, check registers (hard copy or software like Quicken)
- Brokerage account statements
- Credit card statements
- Loan documents and statements
Here are some steps you can take to analyze these financial documents so you can understand the finances and figure out if any money is missing:
1. Organize all of the documents you receive.
a. Make sure your have tax returns and W-2s for each year.
b. Make a list of all bank accounts, investment accounts, and credit cards. Do you have statements for every single month?
c. Get copies of all loan documents, especially for your home mortgage.
d. Always keep one clean set of documents. If you’re going to write or highlight on the documents, do so on a copy.
2. Look at the tax returns page by page. Is there anything there that you didn’t know about? Make a list of questions you need to ask.
3. Go through all bank, investment, and credit card statements line by line. Look for unusual transactions. Unusual may be very large, or it may be to payees you don’t recognize. There may be locations that are unusual. This is where you may find evidence of affairs, property you didn’t know about, or general waste of money. Make a list of questions.
4. Compare the income from employment on the tax return to what is deposited in the bank accounts. Start with the wages and subtract estimated payroll taxes, income taxes, retirement contribution, and other deductions to get to estimated net paychecks for the year. Add up all deposits on bank accounts that appear to be payroll. Are the two numbers reasonably close?
5. Get a credit report to see all debts and make sure there isn’t anything you didn’t know about.
By the time you get to the end of this list, you will likely have a good feel for whether anything is wrong. If there is a significant amount of money missing or wasted, it may be time to bring in a forensic accountant.