Documents to Keep For Life
While it’s possible to get replacement documents, it’s more of a hassle than storing these documents in a safe place, forever. Get attached to birth, death, and marriage certificates, adoption papers, divorce decrees, health records, life insurance policies, wills, and social security cards.
You should keep most tax-related documents for a minimum of three years, but it’s recommended that you keep them for seven years. Separate the related paperwork by year so you don’t have to sort through everything when it’s time to purge older documents.
If you’ve gone paperless, then your bank will generally store your statements for seven years, but check to see what your bank’s policy is on maintaining its customers’ records. Hang on to canceled checks for a year.
As long as you don’t need them to claim tax deductions, you can throw away monthly bills after you’ve checked their accuracy. If you’re canceling a service, it’s recommended that you hang on to the final statement that shows your account is paid in full for a few years in case it appears in collections out of the blue.
Unless you need it for tax purposes or you have an outstanding loan, statements connected to credit accounts can be discarded after you’ve confirmed their accuracy. If you have records pertaining to a settled collections account, keep them indefinitely as proof if the issue resurfaces.
Keep W-2 forms for seven years, and I recommend holding onto offer letters for the extent of each position as well as performance evaluations.
You can dispose of pay stubs after you’ve received your annual W-2 and validated all details are accurate.
Real Estate Records
You’ll want to hang on to all documents pertaining to your home for at least the time that you own it, including sales contracts, deeds, mortgage paperwork, appraisals, etc. For tax purposes, keep all transaction records and receipts for any costly home improvements.
Get rid of any expired policies and claims information that won’t get you tax-deductions, but store any papers connected to insurance payouts for at least seven years and hold on to current coverage policies until they’re irrelevant.
Investments and Retirement Accounts
Maintain transaction records for taxable accounts and keep your annual 1099s for at least seven years. You don’t need to keep track of any transactions in your retirement accounts because they don’t involve tax implications, but you should hang on to any papers related to nondeductible contributions.
You can trash warranties when they expire. There’s no need to hang on to something that’s no longer effective.
Hang on to documents that have to do with your vehicle, like registrations, repair receipts, warranties, and user manuals, as long as you own the car.
Consider keeping receipts for expensive items in case you need to make an insurance claim, and it’s always good to hold on to receipts for items that came with a warranty so you have proof of purchase.
I control the paper coming into our house from the banks and our investment accounts by requesting electronic statements. This cuts down on a ton of weekly, monthly, and yearly paperwork. I log into my online accounts to make sure all of the charges and activity are legit every week.
- I spend 5 to 10 minutes each week maintaining my file box by filing the new mail and getting rid of the outdated materials. I follow these guidelines regarding how long I need to keep my paperwork:
- Tax Paperwork: Keep your tax files for 7 years, if you would like to keep your tax summary or any check stubs written to the government past this point do so. This rule applies to end of year mortgage statements, medical receipts, child care receipts, and anything related to a home business or second home. Because I am self employed I need to keep my financial documents (business receipts, year end bank statements, tax paperwork) forever to prove my income
- Insurance Documents: Only keep insurance policy information and documentation for current policies
- Loan Information: Once a loan is paid off you only need to keep the confirmation that you are paid in full.
- Warranties and Manuals: Only keep warranty documents that are current and for products you still own.
- Utility bills: Unless you have a home office and need these for tax purposes, you can get rid of these bills are the end of each month. If you feel comfortable receiving them electronically do so, this saves you filing time and paper overload.
- Investment Account and Bank Statements: If your statements come in the mail and want to reconcile your accounts, keep the updated copy until the new copy arrives.
- Adoption Paperwork, Marriage License, Divorce Documents: Keep these forever.
- Car Titles: Keep these forever
- Home Improvement Information: Forever
Keep your original social security card, passport, and birth certificate, along with a copy of your marriage, divorce, adoption, and financial and credit card account information in a fireproof box in your home or a safety deposit box at the bank.
It is also a good idea to have a home inventory list documenting your furniture, artwork, jewelry, etc.. Include photos of each room and keep this list in a fireproof box or safety deposit box.