Many homeowners recognize that they have quite a number of things around the house that serve no practical purpose. Paperwork can accumulate seemingly overnight, turning a once-organized home into a messy monument to clutter. Oftentimes, uncertainty about which financial documents to keep and which to discard causes homeowners to keep everything, which can lead to unnecessary clutter.
According to financial expert David Bach, author of the book, “Start Over, Finish Rich,” many people keep too much information for too long. Even though a greater portion of transactions are taking place online, you still may feel more secure keeping paperwork in hard copy. But older bills and documents can likely be thrown away. As you begin your organizing detail, keep these pointers in mind.
What to Keep
Purchase receipts, credit card statements and any other paperwork pertinent for filing taxes should be kept for a full year until taxes are filed.
Experts disagree as to what is the best period of time for keeping documents related to taxes after your return has been filed. Many people can safely shred tax documents within three years of filing. This is the end of the normal audit period for “good-faith” errors. If you do not have any reason to believe information on the returns is fraudulent, you can probably safely toss out these older returns once the three years is up. If you are self-employed or if you want to be extra cautious, you can save tax returns for seven years.
You should keep certain important documents in a fire-resistant safe in the home rather than in a regular filing cabinet. These include warranty documents, insurance policies, copies of will and trust documents, medical history forms, copies of diplomas and school transcripts and an inventory of home items. Also keep important documents that pertain to your home purchase or rental agreement. These include leases, home title, home survey, and mortgage documents.
Many people opt to keep other essential items that need a bit more protection in a safety deposit box or a burglar-proof safe at home. Items inside should include a list of bank account and credit card account numbers, copies of identification cards, passports, social security cards, stock and bond certificates, IRA contribution records, certificates of deposit, and military documents, as well as divorce, marriage, adoption or any other important certificates.
What to Toss
Most experts agree, including sources from Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports and Kiplinger’s, that many receipts can be discarded shortly after purchase. ATM receipts can be thrown away as soon as they are reconciled against your bank statement. Bank and credit card statements can be shredded after they have been confirmed unless you need them for any specific tax-filing reasons.
After a year, it is generally safe to do a thorough clean-out of pay stubs, especially after you have received your tax-filing forms and have submitted tax information.
Many people file away paid bills and keep them far longer than necessary. Again, once they have been checked for accuracy, they can generally be thrown out. If you want to err on the side of caution, then keep these paid bills for two to three months and then toss them out.
Old insurance policies also can be thrown out when they are replaced by newer ones. However, keep the original statement showing the purchase date and price of the policy.
If you have any warranties or instructions for household items that have been sold or donated, then these can be thrown out as well.
Determining which financial paperwork should be saved and what is probably safe to get rid of just takes a little organizing and sorting. After you have culled through the documents, you have just freed up valuable space in your home.