Published on March 4, 2014
The other day I was filling out tax information for my accountant. I had to find some information from last year. That’s when my lackadaisical approach to filing came back to haunt me. You see, three years ago, when I had two children born just 17 months apart, my previous organizational skills disappeared. Because I was in survival mode, rather than filing my paperwork, I stacked it in the corner, intending to get to it when things settled down.
Well, life never quite settled down, and now, three years later, the “pile” has grown into multiple piles. Apparently, I’m in good company. According to Consumers Report, “Unfortunately, only 40 percent of Americans think they can find a document at a moment’s notice, and only 49 percent can do so with a little looking.” The idea of filing all that paperwork is overwhelming. Besides, how much of that paperwork do I really have to keep, and how much can I shred?
If you haven’t gone completely digital yet with your important paperwork and you have your own pile of paperwork to file or files that are overflowing with paperwork from five or ten years ago, here’s what you need to know.
Some documents you can dispose of in less than a year. Credit card bills As soon as you pay, you can shred the bill. There’s no need to keep them unless you need the statements for tax purposes. Bank statements Keep these until you reconcile your checkbook and other accounts. Then you can shred them. However, make sure to keep the year end statement for tax purposes. Insurance policies Once you get a new insurance policy for the year or six months, whatever the case may be, you can shred the old ones.
Tax returns Keep federal and state tax returns for seven years along with the documentation you need for proof that your records and filings are accurate. However, I like to keep tax returns just to see how our income is increasing over the years
Most life planning documents should be kept indefinitely. Life insurance Keep your term life insurance policy until the term expires. If you have whole life, you’ll want to keep the policy indefinitely. Pension documents Any pension documents from current or former employers should be kept indefinitely. Personal retirement accounts Keep the year end records for your Roth IRA and other retirement accounts indefinitely. The monthly statements can be shredded when you get the next monthly statement. Will and trust documents Your will and trust should be kept indefinitely. The executor of your affairs should know where the document is kept so he can get to it easily should you unexpectedly pass away. In addition, keep loan documents until the loan is paid off. Also keep documents like a vehicle’s title until you plan to sell the vehicle.
Now that I know what I can toss (which I’m guessing is most of my stack of paperwork), I’m not dreading organizing my paperwork as much. (For more details, see a comprehensive list of what to keep and toss at Consumers Report.) Do you keep on top of your paperwork, or do you have a “pile” like I do?
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