Home Upkeep: How long to store documents @ Reward Me

How long to store documents?

Knowing what household documents to keep or toss helps reduce clutter.

Receipts, paid bills and bank statements have a way of piling up. You want to declutter your household but you have no idea what to store and what to throw out.

When it comes to document storage the biggest mistake people make is hanging on to too much or not enough, says Robert S. Seltzer, a Certified Public Accountant based in Los Angeles, California. “Neither extreme is good. The pack-rat mentality of keeping years of papers is unnecessary but if you shred everything, you’ll have to scramble in case of a tax audit.”

Here’s a quick list with his recommendations to help you figure out what’s important to keep and okay to trash:

Tax records
How long to keep tax records varies from country to country. In France, two years is recommended, six years for Germany, while in the United States there’s debate if tax records should be kept for three or up to seven years. Seltzer suggests checking with government websites or an accountant for accurate information. Once you’re certain, he advises, “Keep tax returns indefinitely. After the statute of limitations has run out you can shred the backup receipts and supporting documents.”

A home shredder is a must-have decluttering tool. No dumping unshredded old tax and financial papers at a recycling center. “Recycling is not shredding. It offers no protection,” cautions Seltzer. If you’re purging records from years back, a reputable shredding company is a good option.

Financial statements
Keep investment, retirement, bank and credit card statements for at least a year or longer in case they are needed for tax purposes.

Home and car bills
Home deeds, remodeling and repair bills and receipts should be kept indefinitely or until you no longer own the property. If you sell, you will need to prove ownership and the equity put into the house, which affects the purchase price. Some countries deduct mortgage interest payments and certain home improvements, so keep those records for the length of time applicable to your taxes. The same recommendations apply to your car. Keep ownership and maintenance records even if you never expect to sell it. Who knows? One day you might change your mind.

Appliance warranties and manuals
If your refrigerator, flat-screen TV or computer is still under warranty, keep the receipts and warranty certificates. Otherwise, go ahead and dump them. If your laptop crashes while under warranty, you’ll need the papers to get a new one or at least get it fixed. No need to hang onto bulky appliance manuals. Many are now online. Check before chucking the hard copy.


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They wind up all over the place. Crumpled in your bag, the car and stuffed in drawers. Here’s a simple rule to know what to keep and what to shred: Any bills or receipts not needed for tax purposes can be shredded. Match credit card receipts to monthly statements before disposing. Keep receipts longer if you’re contemplating returning a purchase. That hot-pink faux fur jacket may not seem like such a great idea once you’ve gotten it home.

Insurance and medical records
Throw away expired health, auto and homeowner policies and file current ones. Medical bills should be kept for one year in case of healthcare provider or insurance disputes. To better manage your health, some experts recommend retaining any medical history, prescription or information involving serious treatment for five years.

Pay slips
Keep the current year’s slips and shred once you've compared them with your year-end tax statement.

Put in the cloud
Now that you’ve whittled down your piles, what next? Computers give us the ability to scan and store documents digitally. Seltzer says, “For people who feel comfortable with technology, going paperless is a good option.” If you don’t have the disk space on your computer, using a reliable digital backup system significantly reduces clutter and offers security. “Cloud storage gives easy online access. It’s not just for important documents but everything, like pictures and music.” He adds that digital systems have the extra advantage of updating your data automatically so you don’t have to think about it. Set the preferences in the software—daily, weekly, monthly—and the task is done.

Create a filing system
If you’re staying out of the cloud, you’ll need folders, filing cabinet, shelves or bins for hard copies. Develop a system that works for you. Create basic categories from all the documents you wish to file, such as home repair, credit card statements, car insurance. Label folders or bins. And absolutely do your filing on a schedule. Filing once a week or after paying bills will keep your papers from taking over.

Knowing what to keep and what to get rid of is the first step in achieving a clutter-free environment. Now hit the office supply store, pull out that shredder and get to it!

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