Modern life brings with it modern problems. While you may not think twice about that old bill you just threw in the trash, or the pre-approved credit card offer sitting in your recycling bin, you should.
Fraudsters are constantly on the lookout for information they can use to drain your accounts, open loans in your name, or even assume your identity. They will go as far as to dig through your trash and recycling bin or wait until it makes its way to a dumpster, then dive in.
Since you can’t keep every document you ever receive—otherwise you’d have a house overflowing with paper!—it’s important to know what you need to keep, and for how long, what’s okay to toss in the trash, and what you need to shred.
Keep these docs forever
For important documents like birth certificates or military records, experts advise keeping the originals for as long as you’re still upright, in a fireproof safe. It’s also advised to keep a copy of each in a safety deposit box in case the original gets lost or damaged.
- Academic records, diplomas, college transcripts
- Birth and baptismal certificates, adoption papers
- Marriage and divorce certificates
- Death certificates, wills, living wills
- Employment records, military records
- Driver’s licenses & passports
- Medical records
- Social Security cards
- Retirement and pension records
Many documents can be kept for a shorter period of time before they’re disposed of. Here’s a list of the most common ones, and how long to keep them.
ATM Receipts, Voided Checks – keep one month.
Bank Statements – Once you know your monthly statement is correct; you can toss the statement at the end of the year. But if you’ve used a check to pay for a large or deductible purchase, hold on to it.
Bills – Keep one year for anything tax or warranty related. Other bills, including credit card bills, keep only until after you pay them.
Home Improvement Receipts – Keep as long as you own the home.
Investment Records – Keep seven years after you’ve sold the security or closed the account.
Leases – Keep until the lease ends and you have received your deposit back.
Paychecks – Keep one year until you’ve received your W-2 tax form.
Sales Receipts – For major purchases like appliances and electronics, keep for as long as you own the item. For things like shoes or housewares, keep only until you know that you won’t need the receipt to make a return.
Tax Documents – Keep seven years including your filing and all accompanying documents like W-2s and receipts.
What to toss, what to shred
When it’s time to dispose of the documents, use this general rule when deciding whether to toss or shred:
Anything that has account numbers, birth dates, maiden names, passwords, PINs, signatures, or Social Security Numbers should ALWAYS be shredded.
In addition, always shred these documents:
- Legal documents
- Credit reports
- Expired passports/visas and driver’s licenses
- Medical & dental records
- Pre-approved credit card or loan applications
- Receipts with account numbers, credit card numbers or any other identifying information
- Travel itineraries
- Used airline tickets
- Utility bills, cable bills
References: Business Monthly, The Spruce.com