Every year, it’s nice to do a bit of “financial spring cleaning” and declutter your filing cabinet, your desk drawers, and the various hiding places where miscellaneous scraps of paper tend to accumulate and multiply. Read on to find out what you should be saving, and what’s OK to shred.
This category includes all the super-important life stuff that’s usually issued to you only once (and therefore is total pain to replace).
- Birth and death certificates
- Social Security cards and ID cards (even expired versions)
- Passports (even expired versions)
- Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
- Copies of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney
- Adoption papers
- Records of paid mortgages
- Safe-deposit box inventory
Your “keep forever” documents should be kept in a secure place. A locking file cabinet in your home is a popular choice, but consider upgrading to a safer alternative, such as a fireproof safe in your home or a safe-deposit box at your credit union or bank.
Keep for 7 years
This category includes all supporting documents for your income tax return, plus a couple of other odds and ends. This may seem like a long period of time, but it’s not an arbitrary number—7 years is how far back the IRS can go to audit a tax return. The breakdown is a little more complex than that: you can be audited for any reason up to 3 years after you file a tax return, and up to 6 years after you file a tax return if you omitted 25% or more of your gross income—which technically makes the auditing window more like 3 to 7 years.
So, what sorts of documents should you hold onto for 7 years?
- Income tax returns
- Any forms that support income or a deduction on your tax return (e.g., receipts, canceled checks, W-2 forms)
- Records of selling a house or stock (documentation for capital gains tax)
- Records of paid-out loans
- Records of sold investments
- Mortgage documents
- Medical records (including bills, prescriptions, and health insurance information)
Keep for 1 year
This category mostly consists of monthly statements. A good rule of thumb is to keep your monthly statements for the current year, and then shred them once you’ve reconciled them with an annual statement. The exception is any statement needed for tax purposes—those get grouped into the “keep for 7 years” category.
- Bank statements
- Pay stubs
- Quarterly investment statements
- Canceled checks
Keep for 45 days
- Credit card statements
Shred credit card statements after 45 days but hang onto those statements that you may need for business, for taxes, as proof of purchase, or for insurance.
Keep for 30 days or less
- ATM slips
- Utility and phone bills
ATM slips can be tossed once you’ve checked them against your monthly bank statement. Utility bills and phone bills can be shredded after you’ve paid them unless they contain tax-deductible expenses.
Sorting through financial documents is a pretty straightforward process once you figure out how long you need to hang onto specific types of documents. Doing a periodic cleanup will save you time and hassle in the long run and will keep your desk drawers and filing cabinets clutter-free in the meantime!