How Long to Keep Documents

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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.

Pile of papers stacked on white desk with bookshelf in background

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?

  1. Always consult with your attorney and/or accountant to address your unique situation and financial and legal needs.
  2. Think about your documents in 6 categories
    1. Critical Personal Documents
    2. Ownership Documents
    3. Tax Documents
    4. Banking
    5. Short-term Statements
    6. Reference
  3. Consider which documents can be found online, like appliance manuals and bank or utility statements.
  4. Consider which documents you can scan and then dispose of the physical copy.
  5. Consider which documents you need to have available in case of an emergency evacuation.
  6. Always use a shredder to dispose of personal documents and papers.
  7. Store important personal documents in a safe or secure location.
  8. If you store documents online use a strong and secure password and a reputable storage site.
  9. If you have scanned documents onto a thumbdrive or other storage device, always secure the device in a secure location.
Stack of papers next to clipboard on on white desk

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
  • Passport
  • Adoption Papers
  • Trust Paperwork
  • Business Paperwork and Licenses

This printable In Case of Emergency Binder plus Household Inventory Workbook is a great resource for your family organization.

collage of pages of emergency binder

Ownership Documents

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.

  • House
  • Land
  • Business
  • 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.

Hand flipping through brightly colored document files in file drawer

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

Short-Term Statements

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

Reference Manuals

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.

3 green and purple checklist printables about how long to keep personal documents.

How Long to Keep Personal Documents Checklist

Get your own copy of the 3-page resource on how long to keep documents when you sign up for our free newsletter. You’ll promptly be sent an email with a link to the pdf checklist.

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.

How Long to Keep Documents Checklist
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Expert Tips for Printables

How do I access the free printable documents checklist?

Sign up for our free newsletter to get your free copy of the checklist. When you submit the form, you will promptly be sent an email from Organized 31 with a link to the checklist. If you have any difficulty, you can email me and I’ll help you resolved any problems.

How do I print the pdf file?

The pdf usually opens right up when you click on the link. When that happens, simply right click on the pdf and either print or save the document to your device.

How can I use the printable (what restrictions are there on use)?

You can print these pdf files as many times as you’d like for your personal or classroom use. Please do not share the file with family, friends or coworkers. Please do share the link to this post so they can access their own copy of the printable. All printables are copyrighted.

Resources for Creating and Using Your Printables

Pin for later when you need a reminder of how long to keep documents and important papers.

Find all my best organizing tips, hacks, printables and favorite products in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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    1. Elaine, click on either the image or the highlighted “how long to keep documents” link. Once you see the pdf, then right click and click on print. If you still have difficulty, feel free to email me and I’ll send it directly to you. susan (at) organized31 (dot) com

  1. Susan, you have some great information and helpful checklists, etc. I subscribed and was supposed to receive the 17 page End of Life checklists but I didn’t receive them. Can you please help me? Thank you!

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