How Long Should You Keep Important Documents and Records?
It will really help your efforts to organize your financial affairs if you know how long you need to keep statements or documents. A survey by Consumer Reports showed that only 40% of respondents thought that they could find a document at a moment’s notice. Only a slightly larger percentage (49%) thought they could find it after looking for a while. An organized and efficient filing system that only holds the necessary documents will go a long way toward removing the stress of keeping track of your financial assets.
There are certain essential documents that you should hold onto for the rest of your life – birth certificate, death certificates, marriage license, divorce decree, adoption agreement, military service records and social security card all fall into this category. You should keep the originals for these important documents in a safe place. A safety deposit box tops the list for safety, but is not always the most practical option. Documents that you may use often, such as your social security card, would best be kept elsewhere (in your wallet though is the least desirable location). The best option if you don’t have a safety deposit box, is to purchase a water-proof, fire-proof lockbox or small safe.
Other documents that deserve storing in a safety deposit box or lockbox include your most recent estate documents (wills, power of attorney and trust documents), titles to property, savings bonds, and an inventory (with photos) of your significant household assets. Make sure that you make a list of the documents in your safety deposit box or lock box, along with instructions on how to get access to those documents. Give the list and instructions to those who are responsible for taking care of your affairs if something happens to you.
Keep your tax returns for 7 years. Keep any documents that are connected to your tax return for the same period, such as the bill of sale for property listed on the return. Also keep your year-end investment statements for as long as you own the investments, and then for 3 additional years after the investments have been sold.
Keep the year-end reports from banks and credit card companies for 5 years, and then for 3 additional years after closing the account. The only reason to keep monthly bill statements or credit card bills after paying them is to help you keep track of your budget. Most of this information can be found online if needed also. Shredding is the best way to dispose of statements and make sure that your personal information does not fall into the hands of identity thieves.
Properly securing essential documents in a safe place, creating files for property and tax related documents and shredding nonessential documents will go a long way towards clearing the clutter that is blocking you from gaining control over your financial situation.
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