Managing Your Personal Papers
What can you throw away?
What do you need to keep?
What should you have ready in case of an emergency?
Do you know?
If you're like me, you go on a tangent come Fall. Cleaning out the garage so you can get the snowblower out, moving summer clothes into storage, sorting through your winter clothes and realizing you really do need to buy a coat and maybe a few new outfits for work.
This is also the time I organize my home office. Running a house is like running a business, and I always seem to have an ever growing pile of papers. I sort through them with junk mail and unread magazines going into recycle, but what about all that stuff that seems a bit too important to toss? And what about the stuff you saved from last year, and the year before? Do you really need to keep all of it? Thankfully, no! Here's a quick outline of what to keep and what not to keep, as well as some helpful links to prepare yourself for the unexpected!
Things You Need to Keep Forever
- Birth certificates
- Marriage licenses
- Divorce decrees
- Education records
- Military service records
- Social Security Card
- Household Inventory
- Life Insurance policies
- Will (the most current copy)
It isn't that you can't get a copy if they're lost, but it can be time consuming and expensive to do so, and when you need them is usually not the time to start attempting to get copies. I remember needing a birth certificate before a road trip. We had a two hour delay while I drove back to the town I was born in to get a copy, because I had no idea where the original was! Not fun, and the topic of family discussions at least until the next "lost item" story came up.
Things You Need to Keep Until You Don't Own the Related Item
- Home Purchase and Improvement Records
- Investment Certificates
- Loan Documents
- Real Estate Deeds
- Receipts for Large Purchases
- Vehicle Titles
- Service Contracts and Warranties
As long as you own the item, and especially if you have a loan on it, you need to keep the paperwork. If the Service Contract or Warranty has expired, check for contact information. Even if things aren't covered, it can be helpful to have all that additional information.
Things to Keep for the Short Term
- Bank Statements - Retain for one year, unless you need them for your tax filing. Remember, if you get eStatements, you can usually download them and retain them in digital format. But most financial institutions have a limit on how long those statements are available. Beyond that you may need to pay a fee to access older records.
- Contracts - Retain until the contract is up, or you have updated/revised the contract. Then keep the new one!
- Credit Card records - Like Bank Statements, these should be kept if you're going to need them for your tax filings. But otherwise, once you've paid them and have a record of payment, you can destroy them. eStatements are again a way to keep a digital version of the record if you want to keep them longer.
- Home, Car or Other non-life related insurance policies - Always keep the newest policy. Once renewed, the older policy can be destroyed, but you should always have a full copy of your current active policy available.
- Investment Statements - Go ahead and shred your monthly statements as soon as the new one is available. Annual statements should be retained until you no longer hold the funds.
- Social Security Statement - You can shred the statement once you receive a new one. Always keep a copy of the most current statement
Thing to Throw Away
- Cancelled checks for cash or nondeductible expenses
- Expired warranties
- Pay stubs, after reconciling with W-2
- Other records no longer needed, such as those that were replaced by newer versions, manuals of appliances that you've replaced, etc.
For more information on setting up a Safe Deposit Box, preparing an Emergency Financial Records kit, and other information you may want to have ready in case of an emergency, visit USA.gov for more tips.
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