Important papers to keep checklist

Table of Contents

Dear Lifehacker,
I have a giant pile of important looking documents sitting in front of me, and I have no idea what to do with them. Some of them look pointless, but could be important. Which ones should I hold on to, and which ones should I shred?

Sincerely,
What’s this Garbage

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. Now that tax day has come and gone, we figured it was time for a good refresher on what to shred and what to keep.

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Dear WG,
We all get a ton of junk in the mail—whether it’s credit card applications, insurance packets, or a 60-page retirement fund report from a job you had 10 years ago. Thankfully, deciding what to keep is simple, and once you do you can shred pretty much everything else.

The Important Documents You Need to Keep

Depending what type of documents you’re dealing with, you need to store some of them for certain periods of time, others you can digitize, and others you can throw away. Let’s start with the documents you need to keep physical copies of forever:

  • Birth and death certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Pension plan documents
  • ID cards and passports
  • Marriage license
  • Business license
  • Any insurance policy (good to keep even if they have a digital copy in case problems come up)
  • Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
  • Vehicle titles and loan documents
  • House deeds and mortgage documents

In general, you want to keep physical copies of anything related to state or federal matters, including certifications, licenses, or deeds. The reason is twofold: you want to have easy access to these in case you need them, and they’re also a pain to replace because you typically need to make a direct request to the government agency, which takes a lot of time.

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If you’re unsure what to do with these important documents, we recommend keeping an “in case of emergency kit” so you always know where they are. You can also use a webapp like Get Your Sh*t Together to gather everything you need to keep for the long term.

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The second subset of documents to hold onto relates to documents you need to keep for a little while. With these, you can follow our guide to going paperless and scan them in if you like, or just store these documents in a safe place:

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  • Tax records and receipts (keep for seven years)
  • Pay stubs and bank statements (keep for a year)
  • Home purchase, sale, or improvement documents (keep for at least six years after you sell)
  • Medical records and bills (keep at least a year after payment in case of disputes)
  • Warranty documents and receipts (keep as long as you own them)

Finally, the last subset is the documents you need to keep the most recent version of:

  • Social security statements
  • Annual insurance policy statements
  • Retirement plan statements (401(k), 529, IRA, etc)

That’s pretty much it. Once you know what to keep, organize them in a filing cabinet and you’re all set. A good rule of thumb to think about when you’re deciding what to keep is to think about how hard that document is to replace. If you need to venture down to a government office, wait in line at a hospital, or sit on the phone for an hour, then it’s likely best to hold onto it. If you can easily pop online and see a document, then you likely don’t need to keep a physical copy. Photo by Vegansoldier.

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Shred Everything Else

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Everything else you have you can safely shred or throw away. You should shred anything that has personal information like your name, address, phone number, social security number, or bank account information.

This might include a few documents you don’t initially think about, including ATM receipts, credit card receipts, bills, and even used airline tickets. You should also immediately shred expired credit cards, visas, passports, and IDs. The best way to shred documents is with a good cross cut shredder like this one. Photo by Clive Darra.

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Happy shredding,
Lifehacker

Have a question or suggestion for Ask Lifehacker? Send it to [email protected]

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Title image remixed from Pryzmat () and design56 ().

When to Keep and When to Throw Away Financial Documents

If you haven’t already opted to go paperless, you might be swimming in a flood of receipts, bills, pay stubs, tax forms and other financial documents. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Start 2020 off right with this revelation: You can go paperless! Some of those papers you have collected need to be kept, but others can be shredded and tossed.

Here’s a guide of which financial documents to keep and for how long.

Receipts

Receipts for anything you might itemize on your tax return should be kept for three years with your tax records.

Home Improvement Records

Hold these for at least three years after the due date of the tax return that includes the income or loss on the home when it’s sold. If you plan to sell the house, and you have made improvements to it, keep receipts for those improvements for seven years — you may need them to lower the taxable gain on the house when you sell it.

Medical Bills

Keep receipts for medical expenses for one year, as your insurance company may request proof of a doctor visit or other verification of medical claims. If your medical expenses totaled more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in 2017 or 2018, you can deduct them—but remember, starting the beginning of this year (Jan. 1, 2019), you may only deduct the amount of the total unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. If you take that deduction, you’ll need to keep the medical records for three years for tax records.

Paycheck Stubs

Keep pay check stubs until the end of the year, and discard them after comparing to your W-2 and annual Social Security statements.

Utility Bills

Keep for one year and then discard — unless you’re claiming a home office tax deduction, in which case you must keep them for three years.

Credit Card Statements

Keep until you’ve confirmed the charges and have proof of payment. If you need them for tax deductions, keep for three years.

Investment and Real Estate Records

Keep for three years, as you may need the documentation for the capital gains tax if you’re audited by the IRS. These records help track your cost basis and the taxes you owe when you sell stocks or properties. Once you receive the annual summaries, you can shred your monthly statements.

Bank Statements

You’ll need bank statements for up to three years if you are audited by the IRS. If your bank provides online statements, you can switch to receiving your bank documents online and cut down on paper.

Tax Returns

The IRS recommends that you “keep records for three years from the date you filed your original return or two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.” If you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction, keep your tax records for seven years.

Records of Loans that Have Been Paid Off

Keep for seven years.

Active Contracts, Insurance Documents, Property Records or Stock Certificates

Keep all these items while they’re active. After contracts are completed or insurance policies expire, you can discard these documents.

Marriage License, Birth Certificates, Wills, Adoption Papers, Death Certificates or Records of Paid Mortgages

Keep these documents forever.

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Andrew McCaul Is your important paperwork piling up? Check out our easy-to-use chart to see what to keep, what to toss, and how to store those hard-to-replace documents.


Where to Store Documents

Emergency Kit Filing Cabinet

Birth/death certificates
Tax returns
Social Security cards
Credit card statements
Passports
Medical records
Emergency contact information (insurance agents, doctors, family)
Retirement savings statements
Marriage certificates/divorce decrees
Investment records
Wills
Bills
Copies of your driver’s license, green card, and other identification cards
Paycheck stubs
Copies of lifesaving prescriptions (like insulin, asthma inhalers, etc.)
Bank statements
List of bank account and credit card account numbers
Warranty/rebate documentation
Inventory of household goods
Legal documents

How Long to Keep Documents

Document Length of Time

Tax documents
Keep tax returns, as well as supporting documents like W-2 forms, receipts, and real estate closing statements for seven years. The IRS may audit you within three years if it suspects good-faith errors; six years if it believes you underreported your income by at least 25%; and unlimited time if you did not file a return or filed a fraudulent one.
Investment records
Keep as long as you own the securities, plus another seven years . You’ll need them to prove capital gains and losses.
Bank statements
One month. You just need these long enough to check the accuracy of the transactions . Unless the statement is your only record for a tax-related transaction, there’s no need to keep them longer. Plus, your bank will have them available online.
Retirement plan statements
Most, one year, for tax purposes . Keep Roth IRA statements until you retire, to prove you already paid tax on your contributions .
Credit card statements
Shred immediately after checking the accuracy of the transactions . These documents are a prime source for identity theft. Unless the statement is your only record for a tax-related transaction, there’s no need to keep them longer. Plus, your issuer will have them available online.
Paychecks
One year, until you receive your W-2 .
Bills
One year, for tax purposes .
W-2 forms
Until you begin claiming Social Security. They’re the best estimate of your earnings and entitlements.

Now that you know what to keep and what to toss, check out Organize Important Papers and Documents for tips on keeping your paperwork organized.

1. Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer group on privacy and identity theft issues. Web: privacyrights.org. Office phone: 619-298-3396.

3. Kate Williams, vice president of financial literacy for Money Management International, which oversees the Consumer Credit Counseling Service agencies. Web: moneymanagement.org. Office phone:1-800-698-6512.

5. IRS Publication 552; Recordkeeping for Individuals. Web: irs.gov.

6. Identity Theft Resource Center report; The Aftermath 2006. Web: idtheftcenter.org.

7. American Red Cross publication, Disaster Supplies Kit. Web: redcross.org.

Checklist: Documents To Organize And Share

When you’re getting your estate in order, there are many accounts, policies, documents, and other information to organize—and the list of to-dos can quickly become overwhelming. But our ultimate planning checklist will help you get organized painlessly. Putting all your most important information into an Everplan will relieve a big burden on your family if anything should happen to you—and you can relax knowing that they’re taken care of.

You can also use this as a guide to start securely storing and sharing all the information listed below with an Everplan.

Insurance Policies

  • Life Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Car Insurance
  • Home Insurance
  • Other Insurance policies (theft, fire, earthquake, etc.)

Bank Accounts

  • Checking accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Money market accounts
  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • Debit cards

Credit Cards

  • Card number
  • Expiration date
  • Recent account statements
  • Login and password information for online account management

Mortgages Or Loans

  • Company through which mortgage or loan was given
  • A copy of the mortgage or loan agreement
  • Most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return
  • Income tax returns for the current and previous year, including 1040 variations and 1099s, if applicable
  • Gift tax returns

Pension Plans And Retirement Benefit Information

  • 401(k) or 403(b) plans
  • IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan
  • Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension (SARSEP) plan

Titles Or Deeds To Any Property

  • Real estate
  • Motor vehicles
  • Boats

Investment Portfolios

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds

Will

  • Copy of the Will
  • Copies of previous versions of the Will
  • Name of attorney or law firm that helped create the Will, if applicable

Trusts

  • Declarations of trust or Trust agreements
  • Name of attorney or law firm that helped create the Trust, if applicable
  • Bank accounts associated with the Trust

Power Of Attorney

  • Name of the person appointed to Power Of Attorney
  • Power Of Attorney documentation
  • Name of attorney or law firm that helped create the POA, if applicable

Safe Deposit Box

  • Location of safe deposit box
  • Safe deposit box keys or location of safe deposit box keys

Any Professionals Who Have Helped

  • Lawyer
  • Accountant
  • Insurance agent

Advance Directive

  • Living Will
  • Health Care Proxy
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

Proof Of Identity And Relationships

  • Social Security card
  • Armed Forces discharge papers
  • Birth certificate
  • Death certificate
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce certificates
  • Prenuptial agreements
  • Divorce settlements

Household Utilities

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Phone
  • Cable
  • Internet

Automatically Renewing Medications

  • Names of medications
  • Name of pharmacy where medications are renewed
  • Name of doctor who prescribed medication

Email

  • Gmail
  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo! Mail
  • AOL

Online Businesses

  • Amazon
  • PayPal
  • Ebay

Social Media

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Creating an Everplan walks you through each of these items, and tons more, until you have a solid plan in place, which you can easily share with the important people in your life. Give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll become super organized.

11 Essential Documents You Should Keep in Your Safe

Wise Bread Picks

It’s important to keep the documents you need to establish your identity, property ownership, and financial assets safe … which doesn’t mean in your filing cabinet or stacked in a pile on your desk. While you may have digital copies of IDs and tax forms stored on your computer, you should also have a hard copy, in case the digital version is accidentally deleted or your computer crashes. Certain documents deserve a very safe place — like a fireproof safe — in case of identity theft or fire or a break-in. These are the documents you need to put in there.

1. Birth certificates and adoption papers

Keep your original birth certificate and those of your spouse and dependents in your safe. If you need one for reference or proof of identity, make a copy to keep handy. Or you can order a duplicate by contacting the Vital Records office in your state. Keep any legal foster records or adoption papers in your safe, too.

2. Social Security cards

You should never carry your Social Security card with you for identification. It should stay tucked away in your safe at all times, unless you need to bring it to a job interview or provide proof of your identity. Once you do, lock it back up.

3. ID cards and naturalization papers

Get a copy of your military ID, driver’s license, or state-issued ID, as applicable, and keep the copy in your safe. You should also keep your passport or green card in there when not in use. Any other documents you have relating to your citizenship, immigration status, or naturalization should be kept in your safe, as well.

4. Marriage and/or divorce papers

Keep your original marriage certificate and/or divorce papers in your safe. Any legal documents related to your marital status, such as a prenuptial agreement, alimony, or child support agreement, should also be in there in case you need to refer to them again later.

5. Living will

Should something happen to you that prevents you from being able to make decisions about your health, a living will provide instructions for your loved ones to execute on your behalf. This could relieve the burden on them of having to make a difficult decision.

6. Will

A last will and testament, on the other hand, is a detailed account of your estate and lists who gets what once you pass away. If you don’t already have a legal will, put one together and then keep a notarized copy. (See also: What You Need to Know About Writing a Will)

7. Power of attorney papers

If you have the power of attorney for anyone (such as an elderly parent), keep the order in your safe. In addition, if you have any formal agreements for caregiving or elder care arrangements, keep those in there, too.

8. Proof of benefits and disability documentation

If you qualify for any government benefits or assistance programs, keep proof of your beneficiary status in your safe. Keep any official documentation regarding a disability, workplace injury, or military injury in your safe, as well.

9. Professional appraisals

If you’ve had a professional appraisal done on your house, or any high-value you item you own (such as original art, heirloom jewelry, or antique furnishings), keep these documents in your safe. If you decide to sell these items later, this documentation will give you the upper hand in the selling process.

10. Deeds and ownership forms

Keep your mortgage papers or any real estate deeds in your safe, as well as the title and registration for any vehicle you own. Don’t forget boats, trailers, and tractors.

11. Financial account info documents

Most, if not all, of our financial documents and statements can be accessed online, but a list of your accounts, including account numbers and institutions for each, would be helpful in cases where you or your loved ones don’t remember or don’t know what accounts you hold. This includes checking and savings accounts, retirement and investment accounts, and life and other insurance policies. You might also want to include a list of usernames and passwords, although there are other, more secure, ways to keep and share passwords. Products like LastPass are helpful. (See also: Organize 8 Key Areas of Your Life With These 17 Smart Apps)

What records to keep and how long to keep them

Tired of sorting through shoeboxes of receipts and overflowing piles of paper to prepare your taxes? Don’t stop now. This is the time to create a system to organize your financial records that will make the whole process easier next year.

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Your record-keeping system doesn’t have to be fancy, but knowing what to keep and how long to keep it could save your hide if Uncle Sam comes a-knockin’, if your wallet gets stolen or if your house ever burns down. Not to mention the time you’ll save in the long run just knowing where your records are.

Organizing your financial records also can give you a firmer grasp of your finances, so you have a better idea of what you can afford, says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of “Organizing From the Inside Out.”

Who knows? You may even end up with some extra cash. “About 70 percent of my clients find money,” Morgenstern says. “They’ll find checks that didn’t get deposited, bank accounts they forgot about or medical bills that they can file to get reimbursement from their insurance company.”

We talked to Morgenstern and other experts to get their top tips on which records to toss, which ones to keep and the best ways to store and organize it all.

Step 1: Toss what you can

A lot of what you’ve got stashed in those piles of paperwork and in your overflowing file cabinets can probably be pitched. Just make sure you protect your identity by shredding anything that contains more personal information than you can find in the phone book.

Among the records you can purge:

  • Receipts.
    You can throw away receipts for most purchases pretty quickly, especially if you paid with cash. If you paid with a debit or credit card, keep those receipts in an envelope or on a receipt stand (basically, a nail on a base) until you’ve checked to make sure your bank or credit card statement is accurate. The only receipts you really need to keep longer are those for home improvements and major purchases (to get the warranty or prove their value in the event of loss or damage) and those you need for tax purposes. Of course, if there’s a chance you might want to bring back that expensive new coat or pair of shoes, you should keep those receipts as well, at least until the return period ends.
  • Credit card statements.
    Most experts say you can toss monthly statements once you’ve checked them for accuracy unless they’re your only record of a tax-related transaction. If you end up needing a statement for some reason, most banks archive them for you online.
  • Junk mail.
    Throw away investment and bank brochures you’ve already read, pre-approved credit offers and catalogs or magazines more than 3 months old. (If they’ve been around that long, you’re never going to read them.)Be ruthless when it comes to invitations to past events, offers you’re not ready to act on immediately and old greeting cards, unless they contain a special handwritten message.

Step 2: Sort and organize

Once you’ve purged, separate must-keep papers into three categories: those you need to keep for one calendar year, those you need to keep for a longer period and hard-to-replace documents like birth and marriage certificates. (See chart: What records to keep, how long to keep them.)

Then decide on a home for each.

“Just make your system as simple as possible so you actually use it,” says Brandi Kajino, a home office consultant in Vancouver, Washington. “You can have a beautiful filing cabinet but if it’s empty, that’s not helping you.”

  • Documents you’ll keep for a year.
    These records are best kept in a filing cabinet or box that’s easy to access, organizers say.Create folders with topics such as pay stubs, bank statements, utilities, phone and auto bills. This is also the place to keep tax-related receipts for business expenses and charitable contributions.If you hate filing or you’re short on space, try an accordion file or a set of stacked letter boxes, Kajino says.
  • Long-term storage.
    Most organizers recommend clearing out your files after you do your taxes and placing your return and other documents in a box or bin labeled with the year. To keep them safe and dry, choose a plastic container with a lid. Wondering how long to keep your returns? The IRS has three years to audit you if it discovers good-faith errors; six if you significantly underreported your income. But many experts say if you have the space, the safest strategy is to keep tax-related papers forever.“You just never know when you’re going to have to go back and prove something,” says Michael Tonkovic, a director in PwC’s Washington National Tax Services group.“Let’s say you worked for a pizza parlor when you were in college and when it comes time for you to be paid Social Security, you don’t see those wages on your wage statement for Social Security. One way to prove that is if you kept that tax return and W-2.”Another scenario: Your employer or tax accountant is being audited for fraud committed 10 years ago. (There’s no time limit if fraud is suspected.) Chances are, the IRS is going to want to see your returns as part of its investigation.
  • Vital documents.
    Records such as marriage and birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, wills, death certificates and titles should be kept in a very safe place. Some experts say a safety deposit box is best, though it might be tough to access at odd hours, and if you die, the box may be sealed. Another good option: a fire and waterproof box or cabinet. In either case, keep copies of these documents in a separate location. Don’t forget to include a household inventory or video, and a list of all of your important accounts.

Step 3: Stay on top of it

Now that you’ve created a system, the key is to actually use it.

Some tips:

  • Create a home financial center.
    Choose a single place where you will open bank statements, pay bills and file documents. Your computer, shredder and scanner should be nearby. The best location, says Morgenstern, is where papers naturally accumulate.“If your papers are all over the kitchen counter and your office is upstairs, you have to move your office to the kitchen,” she says. “You need to work where you gravitate because you’re never going to retrain yourself.”That may mean clearing out a cabinet or investing in a rolling file cart.
  • Plan for incoming paper.
    To prevent piles from forming again, have a plan for how you will handle mail as it comes in.Kajino recommends a few folders or letter boxes with labels such as “action” for papers you need act on, “data entry” for phone numbers or receipts and “read and review” for newsletters and articles you want to read.
  • Set home office hours.
    Whether you spend a little time each night or two hours every Saturday morning, pick a regular time to pay bills and file your financial statements, then put it on your calendar and stick to it.“It should be the same day and time of day every week,” Morgenstern says. “You can’t just do it when you’re in the mood or when you have spare time. Neither of those ever occurs.”Plan to invest a minimum of an hour a week.
  • Go digital.
    Programs such as Quicken make it easy for you to track spending, reconcile your bank statements and eliminate extraneous paper. You also can pay your bills online and download bank and credit card statements to your computer, saving them there instead of in paper form. The IRS considers electronic documents as good as paper.Just make sure you encrypt the files and store backup copies on a USB flash drive, a CD, a DVD, a portable hard drive or with a web-based storage service.

Chart: What records to keep, how long to keep them

Document How long to keep it Why
Tax returns and supporting documents A minimum of seven years after the return is filed. The IRS has three years to audit your return if it suspects good-faith errors, six years if it believes you underreported your income by at least 25 percent and an unlimited time if it is investigating fraud. At a minimum, hold on to your W-2s until you begin earning Social Security since they offer the best estimate of your earnings.
Brokerage statements / investment records Keep monthly statements for one year; you can dump them if your annual statement summarizes all activity. Keep the yearly summaries as long as you own the security, plus seven years. You need proof of your purchases to prove capital gains and losses on your tax return.
Retirement plan statements Keep quarterly statements for one year; dump them once you match the figures with your annual statement. Keep the annual summaries until you retire. Records of your contributions to your Roth IRA prove that you already paid the tax on it.
Home improvement and other real estate records Until you sell the home, plus seven years. They establish your cost basis in the home and could help lower your capital gains tax on the property.
Credit card statements One month Toss once you check them for accuracy, unless they’re your only record of a tax-related transaction.
Pay stubs One year Shred once you get your W-2 and you make sure the numbers match.
Bank statements Keep monthly statements for one year. Keep annual statements related to your taxes for at least seven years. They provide proof of income from interest-bearing accounts and can be a record of tax-related transactions.
Utility and phone bills One month Keep until you get the next statement showing that you paid, unless you need it for tax purposes.
Receipts One month, for purchases such as groceries and restaurant meals, until you match them with your credit card or bank statement. For expensive purchases (jewelry, furniture, appliances), staple the receipt to the owner’s manual and keep it as long as you own the item. Receipts for big-ticket items are necessary to activate the warranty or replace a defective item and can prove an item’s value to an insurance company.

See related: Video: Hoard or shred? Organizing financial records

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I’m a very organized person. That is true with everything – even papers. That includes manuals, receipts, and warranties. I was just always afraid to throw those items away. While I’ve not ever needed any of them, there have been times when I was glad I did. It saved us money!

A while back, I noticed our faucet was leaking. My husband, I couldn’t believe it as it was less than a year old! Rather than run out and buy a new one, we did some research to see if we could replace the broken part instead. I was able to find it for $50 (much less than the cost to replace). However, just as I was ready to click the button to buy, I noticed that there was a link to warranty information.

I clicked over and read and sure enough — our faucet was in fact under warranty! The kicker was the receipt. We had to be able to show proof of the date of purchase. I went looking and ended up finding just that! We were able to call and order the replacement part at absolutely no cost to us.

We have had this happen in other situations as well. We had a freezer stop working. The compressor went out. The same thing happened with this – it was still under warranty. I had the receipt and paperwork available to prove this to the company, and they replaced our $400 freezer — for free!

It was in these moments that I was glad I had become so diligent with saving our paperwork. Doing so can also potentially save you money. If you are not sure how or what to save, here are some ideas:

  • How to Organize Any Space
  • Free Printable Daily To Do List
  • How to Get Organized for Tax Time

HOW TO ORGANIZE IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

1. File Box

We use this method we use to keep all of our documents (you can find the style of box HERE). I have several of these boxes and within them, hanging file folders. These are labeled so I can track down what I need. The categories depend upon what you need. Here those we use:

Taxes
Owners Manuals
House
Small Appliances
Large Appliances
Medical
Dental
Vehicles
Insurance

2. File Drawer

If you do not have very many of these, you could easily find a file cabinet or drawer in which to store them. It is still best to keep them organized by category so you can see what you need when you need it.

3. Notebook

I tried this method, and it didn’t work for me (you can read about that here). It does work for many and might be the best option for you. If you do decide to go with this method, I would recommend that you purchase higher quality STURDY plastic sleeves for your items (I think that is where I went wrong). You should still divide the papers by category so that you can find them when you need to.

4. Paperless

You can scan in items via a Neat Scanner or the scanner on your printer. Then, create a file folder on your computer for these items and organize them accordingly. For example, create a folder called “Home Items.” Under that heading, make additional folders called Electronics, Appliances, etc.

HOW LONG TO KEEP DOCUMENTS

It is one thing to know how to store your important papers and documents. But, how long do you need to hang onto them?

1. Tax Returns

Hang onto your tax returns for seven years. This includes all receipts and additional documentation. When you get the newest return, find the oldest and toss it. That way, you always have just seven (7) years’ worth of tax returns.

For example, when you file your 2017 return, track down and returns from 2010 (and before). Shred these returns (do not just toss them into the trash or recycling). You can find a shredder for around $30 on Amazon.

If you have a unique situation such as a business or complicated return, you may need to retain these for a longer period. You may want to consult with your CPA.

2. Owners Manuals

There is not any need to keep these anymore since most of them are available online. I will admit that I still have some filed, and like to pull it out and read it when needed. But again, you can toss these.

3. Warranties

You should always keep these along WITH your receipt (stapled together). By doing this, you will quickly find the details about your warranty as well as have the documentation you need.

4. Receipts

Most store receipts are valid for returns for up to 90 days. For big-ticket items, it is good always to keep these and attach them (as mentioned in #3 above) or saved in a folder.

5. Bank Statements

There is no need to save your bank statements as long as you have access to them online. If your bank does not have this feature, it is only necessary to keep them for one month. As you reconcile your account, toss out (actually shred) the prior month’s statement.

6. Bills / Credit Card Statements

If you use these to keep track of payments, you should keep them only until the next month’s bill arrives and you confirm your payment was applied. These should always be shredded or destroyed. We do not keep any of these and shred all of them. However, we do scan in those needed for tax purposes, so we have them as documentation.

7. Tax Items

As you go through the year, there are things you know you will need for your taxes. Rather than put them where you have to go digging at the end of the year, you could instead put them all into one folder. Place your Receipts, purchases, etc. in a single folder all year long. At tax time, everything you need is in one place. No digging or research is necessary.

8. Medical receipts/insurance paperwork

These items should be saved through the end of each calendar year, in case you need to check payments to show deductibles, additional claims, etc.. If you include anything from the paperwork on your taxes, save those items with that year’s taxes. If any items are associated with Worker’s Comp, you should contact your attorney or CPA about the length of time to keep those records.

9. Pay Stubs

Keep one year’s worth of stubs. If you need to show proof of income, most companies will not require anything further back than this period of time.

To ensure you purge items you no longer need (warranties that have lapsed, etc.), make sure you go through your files at least once per year. The easiest time to do this is when you are filing away your most recent taxes. You are already looking at your files to do this, so just take a little more time and clear out those old items you no longer need.

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