Paperwork can quickly get out of hand and become overwhelming. We are bombarded with notices, receipts, forms and documents—it can be hard to know what’s important and what’s inconsequential.
We’ve put together some guidelines to help you know what to keep and how best to keep it.
Forever—and close at hand: Some documents are so important that you should always keep them in their original paper form and store them in a secure, portable container at your residence. If you ever need to evacuate your home due to a natural disaster or catastrophic event, having these documents with you is essential. Obtain a small metal file box for birth and death certificates, citizenship papers, marriage and divorce decrees, custody agreements, passports, insurance policies, deeds, titles and military records. It will be easy to grab it and go in case of emergency.
Forever: It makes sense to keep tax returns as well as investment and retirement plan statements forever. Loan and mortgage documents; receipts for major home improvements or renovations; and appraisals and receipts for major purchases(appliances, furniture, jewelry, computers, etc.) should be kept for as long as you own the property or item. Consider storing these documents in a safety deposit box at your bank. The nominal fee will afford you tremendous peace of mind. Scanning and storing electronically is another viable option.
For a year: Keep all pay stubs, medical receipts, cancelled checks, receipts for deductible expenses and bank and credit card statements for a full year. If you want to limit the amount of documents you have on hand, paperless statements for your bank accounts will leave the information accessible to you without having to store it personally.
For a month: You can safely shred ATM and credit card receipts each month. Check your bank statement online frequently and carefully review your credit card statements when they arrive. Once you’ve verified the accuracy of the information, you can safely dispose of the receipts.
It’s equally important to make sure the documents you save and the documents you discard are handled securely to protect yourself from identity theft. Keep these three factors in mind.
Home safe home: Designate an unexpected place in your home to store paper records where they will be safe from damage or theft. All digital records should be archived and password protected.
Keep online accounts secure: Set complex passwords and change them frequently. Don’t use the same user name and password combinations on multiple accounts and consider investing in reliable antivirus software.
Shred! Shred! Shred!: Simply throwing away your private documents leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. Invest in a shredder and use it judiciously.
The bottom line? To keep your information and identity safe, follow these simple guidelines to know what to keep and how long to keep it!