One of the most difficult tasks in decluttering is deciding how long to keep documents. This used to be a much more difficult question. Fortunately for us, technology makes answering this question easier. Technology and all the tips and the free printable How Long to Keep Documents checklist you can find below.
Everyone’s personal situation and financial and legal needs are different. You should always consult with your attorney and/or accountant before destroying documents and personal paperwork.
There are some general guidelines you can use when you’re decluttering and wonder how long to keep paperwork and documents.
How Long Should You Keep Important Documents?
- Always consult with your attorney and/or accountant to address your unique situation and financial and legal needs.
- Think about your documents in 6 categories
- Critical Personal Documents
- Ownership Documents
- Tax Documents
- Short-term Statements
- Consider which documents can be found online, like appliance manuals and bank or utility statements.
- Consider which documents you can scan and then dispose of the physical copy.
- Consider which documents you need to have available in case of an emergency evacuation.
- Always use a shredder to dispose of personal documents and papers.
- Store important personal documents in a safe or secure location.
- If you store documents online use a strong and secure password and a reputable storage site.
- If you have scanned documents onto a thumbdrive or other storage device, always secure the device in a secure location.
How Long to Keep Documents
Think of Important Documents in Six Categories
Important Personal Documents
These are documents that are difficult to replace and are related to your personal identity and legal relationships. Keep these forever and keep them in a safe location.
- Birth Certificate
- Social Security Card
- Marriage Certificate
- Divorce Decree
- Death Certificates
- Adoption Papers
- Trust Paperwork
- Business Paperwork and Licenses
These are documents that prove ownership of high value items. Keep these for the time you own the items. And consider if you need to keep them longer for tax purposes. Keep the documents in a safe location.
- Car, Motorcycle, Truck
- Boat, Recreational Vehicle, Airplane, etc.
- Expensive Animals
- Expensive Art
How Long to Keep Tax Returns
This is one of the most complicated questions when it comes to deciding how to long to keep documents.
- Always check with your attorney, accountant and the IRS for updates and changes.
- It is generally advised to keep tax returns for 3-10 years depending on your financial and tax situation.
- To be more conservative, you can keep the supporting documents for 7 years and then simply keep the tax return for 7-10 years.
- You can scan both the tax return and the supporting documents and keep them forever, if you’ll sleep better.
- Additional resources to answer more specific questions:
How Long to Keep Bank Documents
The key with dealing with bank documents is to remember that many documents are available online. If you’re unsure, check with your bank first about which statements and documents are available to you online.
Always consider whether a bank document has tax implications and should be kept as long as you keep the corresponding tax return.
- Bank Statements – 1 year
- Check with your bank about how long statements can be accessed online
- Consider if you need to save the statements longer for tax or business purposes
- Credit Card Statement – 1 month or until you reconcile it
- Deposit and Withdrawal Slips – 1 month or until reconciled
- Credit Card Receipts – 1 month or until reconciled
- Consider if you need to keep the receipt to be able to return the item if you’re not sure about keeping it
- Consider if you need to keep receipts for high value items for insurance purposes
- Loan and Mortgage Monthly Statements – 1 – 3 months, until you can reconcile it with the next statement
- Loan and Mortgage Documents – As long as you have the loan and as long as there are tax implications
These are statement that you only need to keep until the next statement arrives in a month or year. These statements are often available online, but at most keep them until the next statement arrives and you can verify the information.
- Utility Statements
- Cell phone, cable, etc. bills
- Cancelled Checks
- Insurance Statements
- Pay Stubs
- Bank deposit or withdrawal receipts
- Children’s report cards
Most reference manuals can now be found online. If you’re concerned, check online for the manual first before you recycle it.
If you will refer to the manual often and prefer a hardcopy of it, then consider keeping it.
But the vast majority of manuals are never referenced and can go straight into the recycle can.
How Long to Keep Personal Documents Checklist
Print your own copy of the 3-page resource on how long to keep documents. You can download the pdf, print out your checklist and get started right now.
The Paper Organizing Apps list has active links to take you to the app in either the Apple Store or the Google Play Store.
When asking yourself how long do I have to keep this document, remember, with the option of accessing many documents online and also of scanning and storing documents, there is really very few physical pieces of paper that you need to keep for a long time.
Pin for later when you need a reminder of how long to keep documents and important papers.