The Paper Game: Keep vs. Toss
What is the shape of your filing system? Are your filing drawers stuffed so full that it’s nearly impossible to get another piece of paper into —or out of — them? Once a year, you should take time to review your files and purge as much as possible, leaving room for next year’s papers.
DETERMINE WHAT TO KEEP
As you sort through papers, ask yourself: “When will I really need this again?” “Can it be easily recreated or retrieved elsewhere?” Don’t hang onto things unless you have a really good reason! Be ruthless. Remember: 80% of the things you file will never get referred to again.
KEEP ONLY DAY-TO-DAY PAPERWORK AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
For rarely-used files that must be kept, archive them in an out-of-the-way area, such as a closet, basement, or off-site storage facility.
SOME THINGS CAN BE IMMEDIATELY TOSSED
Instruction manuals for products you no longer own, old research materials, paid utility bills, out-of-date magazines and articles, and receipts for items past their return date can be discarded.
IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS GO IN A SAFETY DEPOSIT BOX
It is imperative that you stock your safety deposit box or home safe with the following papers:
- adoption and citizenship papers
- birth, death, and marriage certificates
- divorce decrees
- insurance policy papers
- lease agreements and loan documents
- mortgage papers
- personal property appraisals (jewelry, collectibles)
- Social Security cards
- stock and bond certificates
- vehicle titles
- copies of wills
- powers of attorney papers
And don’t forget to LOCK your home safe. It is NOT fireproof if the lock is not engaged.
RECORD RETENTION GUIDELINES
Your accountant, attorney, or professional organizer can tell you which documents you should keep for legal purposes. There is some controversy among financial experts about what records to keep and for how long. The below retentions periods should be interpreted as general guidelines. You should consult your financial advisor for questions regarding your information.
- Accident Reports/claims (settled cases) 7 Years
- Bank Statements 3 Years, especially important to keep if you don’t receive cancelled checks
- Cancelled Checks 3 Years
- Car Records: title, receipts, servicing / mileage records Until car is sold or lease expires
- Insurance Policies For the life of the policy
- Legal Documents: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, will, etc. Forever. Storage should be a fire proof box or safety deposit box
- Medical Bills 3-4 Years in case of insurance disputes: 6 years if tax related
- Mortgages, Deeds, Leases 6 years beyond life of agreement. Storage should be a fire proof box or safety deposit box.
- Patents, Trademarks, Registrations, Copyrights Forever
- Pay Stubs Until reconciled with W-2
- Property Records: Builder’s contracts, blueprints, home improvement receipts Until property is sold, 6 more years if tax related
- Retirement and Pension Records Forever
- Sales Receipts As long as store policy decrees if you think you may return the purchase; if purchase is under warranty, keep receipt for the life of the warranty: 6 years if tax-related
- Stocks and Bond Records 6 years beyond selling them; Storage should be a fire proof box or safety deposit box
- Tax Returns and any tax related items 6 years
- Utility Bills 6 years if tax related, 1 year if you anticipate selling your home
- Warranties and instruction booklets As long as you own the product. Staple receipt to warranty.
- Other Bills Until payment is verified on next bill. 6 years if tax related.
(Credit for this compilation goes to NAPO Chicago)