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What Documents Should I Keep vs. Shred? Thumbnail

What Documents Should I Keep vs. Shred?

Ideally, you should be receiving most documents nowadays electronically and scanning documents as you receive them to store them electronically, but that isn’t always easy to do. It’s easy to throw up your hands in exasperation when it comes to filing papers and documents that pile up at home, and you may be tempted to shred everything to be done with it. However, even if you keep most documents electronically, there are some documents that should be retained for some period of time, and keeping good records will reduce clutter, prevent identity theft, and reduce stress - no more searching for needed paperwork!

The principles of good record management for businesses also pertain to personal recordkeeping. They are accountability, transparency, integrity, protection, compliance, and accessibility. Consider the following principles (and time frames) when deciding what to keep or shred (or delete, in the case of electronic records) for your document management plan.

Documents to Shred Immediately

The following are documents that you should shred immediately to protect your personal information:

  • ATM receipts and reconciled paper bank statements
  • Old credit card bills (after charges have been verified and electronically saved)
  • Paid utility bills
  • Expired warranties
  • Canceled and voided checks
  • Checks that have been deposited via mobile app
  • Junk mail (specifically, banking or credit card offers that contain your information and a sign-up code)
  • Store receipts (after the return period is over)
  • Any statement with your credit card number, social security number, phone number, or other personal information)

Documents to Shred After 7 Years

While you should shred some documents immediately, some should be kept for about seven years to refer to their information.1

Here’s a list of what to shred after seven years:

  • Paperwork related to an estate settlement or a loved one's death
  • IRS tax returns (the IRS has three years for an audit, which can be extended to six years if an investigation is warranted)2
  • Tax-related receipts
  • Other tax forms and tax records
  • W-2s and 1099s
  • Investment records (shred them seven years after you've sold the securities or closed the investment accounts)

Documents to Shred After 10 Years

You should keep some documents for reference for up to ten years, including:

  • Medical records, such as hospital discharge papers, prescriptions, and medical tests
  • Receipts for home repairs (keep receipts until you sell your home and need them to calculate potential capital gains taxes)
  • Purchases with a warranty (i.e., major appliances)

Documents You Should Never Shred

Of course, there are some important documents you should never shred, such as:

  • Legal records
  • Birth certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Divorce decrees
  • Death certificates
  • Wills and other estate planning documents
  • Marriage licenses or prenup agreements
  • Unexpired passports
  • Insurance documents (until those items are sold)
  • Mortgage documents for your current home
  • Vehicle purchase or lease documents and titles (until you sell the vehicle)
  • Stock and bond purchase documents (as long as you own them)

In addition to the lists above to help you decide which documents to keep or shred, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has compiled an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit for paper documents to have handy in an emergency.3 Storing these documents that should never be shredded in a 3-ring binder with plastic sleeves is an excellent way to keep them easily accessible:

Once you know what documents to shred and systematically file the rest, you’ll be ready to file taxes, manage your budget, and easily locate the required papers in case of legal actions or audits. You can rest easy, knowing your paperwork is all in order—safe and secure.

  1. https://www.identityguard.com/news/to-shred-or-not-to-shred-tax-season-preparation 
  2. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/irs-audits 
  3. https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_effak-toolkit.pdf 

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Strategic Financial Planning, Inc. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered legal, investment, or tax advice.