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Thread: What documents do you keep and for how long?

  1. #1
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    What documents do you keep and for how long?

    I've been going through a few boxes of old documents--things like bank statements, checks, credit card statements, pay stubs and so forth. Normally I'm the opposite of a pack rat, but somehow when it comes to these kinds of "official" records I find I get nervous about shredding them, even in cases where I think it's highly unlikely I'll ever look at them again. Anyone else have this issue?

    I know a few basics about which docs to keep--such as the IRS rule that you need to keep your income tax returns for a minimum of three years. But what about other things?

    There's also the possibility of scanning certain documents and then storing them in digitized form. Anyone doing this?

  2. #2
    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Our income tax directives suggest keeping records for financial items for 7 years. Other records are kept for emotional or historical reasons but they are more like simple purchase and sale agreements with little more. Warranties are kept 10 years usually.

  3. #3
    Senior Member SteveinMN's Avatar
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    Doing a Web search for "what financial records do you need to keep?" will yield dozens of articles on the topic; you can pick the source that speaks to you most clearly.

    I have a file cabinet of documents I "may need someday". Some of them describe the pension plans of now-defunct employers (and the subsequent legalanalia). Some are warranties or product information (cleaning instructions, etc.) for items we have in the house. I like to keep a couple of idea files because some people have to see an idea to understand it. Very old tax returns, investment records, invoices from medical providers (for the HCRA),... I do go through those folders every year or so and toss what's no longer needed. And we have the room and they require no other maintenance. So we keep them.

    Over the last 2-3 years, I've really tried to go more paperless. I receive almost all of my bills and statements via the Internet, I have autopay for almost all regular payments, and I maintain records for my investment property electronically. Until recently, I did my taxes on the computer, too. I have not gotten into digitizing paper for storage, though. I suppose I should, as if I did, I would back them up off-site like I do the records which come in electronically; I don't copy paper and move it off-site. I just haven't felt like disrupting my workflow to do it that way, though, because of the few documents we receive by mail, many to most would be difficult or very time-consuming to scan.

    This level of "being digital" does make it interesting to bring tax records to the accountant; this year I simply burned a CD of the salient records. It also raises archival issues. For instance, it simply may not be possible to reinstall and use our home tax software which we used, say, 5-6 years ago. So I've just kept the program CD and paper copies of the returns and supporting worksheets in case we ever need them. Fortunately, popular file formats -- PDF, DOC, XLS, TXT, JPG -- are relatively static now and now that people are finally moving away from hardware-bound media formats (floppies, tape, Syquests, Zip drives, CDs), the main concerns are making sure you can get to old backups to restore the files you need and not putting all your document eggs in one basket (location).
    Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. - Booker T. Washington

  4. #4
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    Interesting story: We bought a home for parents 35 years ago. Just sold it and the attorney asked for the "Abstract of Title". Wonder of wonders, the original documents were in my home purchase folder that we have had for 35 years and all the tax statements were in our 2011 tax file folder. 5 minutes to find and only a little longer to mail out. Saved us a bunch of money and time since they only have to review and not recreate the documents.

    In addition, we have all the home improvement documents parents kept and know right now that the house will have a small tax loss (not deductible) and whew, no profit to report. Just one reason to be organized and be careful about throwing out stuff.

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