One of the most asked questions in organizing offices and more specifically paperwork is how long to keep it? Answering that question is truly judgmental on your part because no one wants to tell you to toss something to only find out down the road it is needed and important.
But there are some guidelines you could follow that might help you determine what to keep and what to toss … and when.
Keeping your paperwork organized and systematized will be helpful should you need to meet with a financial advisor or an attorney … especially an Elder Attorney.
Also, if you are a senior, having your paperwork organized is critical should something happen to you. Then your family will have an understanding of where to find these important documents.
Even if you dread this project (and most people do), it is critical and should not be delayed. Tax season is a great time to start tackling this project. But don’t spend time during tax season to get organized only to let it get messed up again. Create an organizational system and keep at it. Don’t let it become a cluttered mess again.
Understand these are only guidelines and not a hard and fast rule. We each need to determine our own timeline of holding onto important paperwork/documents.
Items to Hold Onto for a Year or Less
- Credit Card bills – If you can get a summary at the end of the year of your charges, this is ideal. You will then know what you spent your money on. What works for me is attaching the receipts to the appropriate monthly statement. This way I am confident what I am paying that month was what I actually charged. Very, very rarely was there a charge I never made. But keeping the receipts with the Statement works well for me.
- Bank Records – You can keep your deposits and ATM receipts until the statement comes in and you verified they match. Then by all means you can toss if you want to minimize paperwork.
- Insurance Policies – When your new policy for the year comes in, you can shred the prior year.
- Investments Statements – Sometimes you get monthly and quarterly Statements. Then the end of the year you get an End-of-Year Statement. If the End-of-Year Statement looks correct, consider tossing the prior months and keep only the End-of-Year Statement.
- Pay Stubs – Once you get your W-2, there really is no need to keep the pay stubs.
- Receipts – If you don’t track your spending, then I would highly consider getting rid of the receipts by the end of the year. But I would be sure to hold onto receipts that were from a major purchase. You never know when you would need to prove the warranty.
Items to Hold Onto For a Limited Period of Time
- Savings Bonds – Once they mature and you cash them in, there really is no need to hold onto them.
- Investment purchase confirmations – If these confirmations show up on your Statements, then it really isn’t necessary to hold onto the purchase confirmation. Once the Statement comes in and you verify it, you can consider discarding them.
- Household appliances & furniture paperwork – If you sell or get rid of an item, definitely purge the paperwork or have it go with the item.
- Loan Documents – Once the loan is paid off, you can consider purging the documents perhaps after a year. But while the loan is alive, I would store in a secure place like a Safe-Deposit box.
- Vehicle records – Keep all-important documents in a Safe-Deposit box. Once the vehicle is sold, turned in or dumped, then it won’t be necessary to hold onto them any longer.
Items to Hold for Seven Years
- Federal and State Tax returns and all supporting documents – (after 7 years it is recommended to just keep the returns if you like tracking your income. Otherwise, you can shred.)
Items to Hold Forever
- Life Insurance policies – Unless you cash in a policy, keep these documents in a safe, secure place life a safe-deposit box.
- Birth Certificates – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Death Certificates – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Marriage licenses – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Divorce decrees – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Social Security Cards – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Military discharge papers – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Estate Planning Documents (Wills, Power of Attorney, Medical Representation) – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
- Safe Deposit Box inventory – Keep this document in a safe place in your home where it will be easily located.
- Pension Plan Documents – Keep in a safe, secure place like a safe-deposit box.
So here is a snip-it of guidelines to help you determine how long to keep certain documents. If creating an organizational system for you in this area seems overwhelming, by all means ask for help from a Professional Organizer. I’d be honored to help you create a system that will work and keep you organized now and in the future.
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