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How Long Should You Keep Financial Documents?

With all the paper and electronic statements, agreements, receipts and bills coming your way, it can be difficult to know what to save and for what reason. The list below will help you keep the important records where you need them to be and get rid of the documents that are OK to toss. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will certainly help you get started.

  • What
    • Old bills (phone, utility - you might want to keep track of amounts before tossing)
    • Grocery store receipts
    • ATM receipts
  • Why - Bills and receipts can be tossed once you have paid them and compared them with credit card and bank statements.
  • What
    • Store receipts - unless you need them for tax, insurance or warranty purposes (which you then should keep for as long as you need them)
    • Pay stubs - to match up with the W-2 form your employer sends
  • Why - Certain items should be kept for up to a year to check against year-end statements and for tax filing purposes, in case you need to itemize deductions.
  • What
    • Bank and credit card statements that include tax-deductible charitable donations, tuition costs, business or medical expenses
    • Any records needed for tax deduction purposes that are not already included on bank and credit card statements
  • Why - The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can audit your records for up to seven years after filing.
  • What
    • Warranties until expired
    • Loan document until loans are paid in full
    • Insurance policies until expired and outstanding issues are resolved
    • Receipts, including model/serial numbers, for major purchases (cars, equipment, appliances)
    • Animal registration and immunizations
    • Reports and insurance claims (for theft or accidents)
    • Title to your car
    • Receipts for major items you have sold
    • Lease agreements and membership contracts
    • Credit card and bank account agreements
  • Why - Some records need to be retained for an undefined amount of time, from a year for a short-term warranty to several years for documentation of loans you’re still paying off.
  • What
    • Birth certificate
    • Educational records (transcripts, diplomas)
    • Employment records, including military papers
    • Adoption papers
    • Citizenship documents
    • Marriage certificate (and divorce, alimony, custody agreements)
    • Important health records such as immunizations
    • Passport
    • Social Security card
    • Year-end pay stubs and bonus statements
    • Records of contributions to retirement accounts
    • Change-of-name legalization papers
    • Stock and bond certificates
    • Mortgage, home deed and improvement records
  • Why - Documents that are hard to replace should be stored in a secure fireproof box or safe deposit box.
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