Financial Paperwork: What to Keep, What to Toss
Dear Savvy Senior,
How long should a person hang on to old receipts, stock records, tax returns and other financial documents? I have accumulated boxes full of such papers over the years and would like to get rid of some of it now that I’m retired.
This is a great time of the year to get rid of unnecessary or outdated paperwork and to organize your records in preparation for filing your tax return in the spring. Here’s a checklist of what to keep and what to toss out, along with some tips to help you reduce your future paper accumulation.
- ATM receipts and bank-deposit slips as soon as you match them up with your monthly statement.
- Credit card receipts after you get your statement, unless you might return the item or need proof of purchase for a warranty.
- Credit card statements that do not have a tax-related expense on them.
- Utility bills when the following month’s bill arrives showing that your prior payment was received. If you wish to track utility usage over time, you may want to keep them for a year, or if you deduct a home office on your taxes keep them for seven years.
To avoid identity theft, be sure you shred anything you throw away that contains your personal information. It’s best to use a crosscut shredder rather than a strip one, which leaves long paper bands that could be reassembled.
Keep One Year
Paycheck stubs until you get your W-2 in January to check its accuracy.
Bank statements (savings and checking account) to confirm your 1099s.
Brokerage, 401(k), IRA and other investment statements until you get your annual summary (keep longer for tax purposes if they show a gain or loss).
Receipts for health care bills in case you qualify for a medical deduction.
Keep Seven Years
Supporting documents for your taxes, including W-2s, 1099s, and receipts or canceled checks that substantiate deductions. The IRS usually has up to three years after you file to audit you but may look back up to six years if it suspects you substantially underreported income or committed fraud.
- Tax returns with proof of filing and payment. You should keep these for at least seven years, but many experts recommend you keep them forever because they provide a record of your financial history.
- IRS forms that you filed when making nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA or a Roth conversion.
- Receipts for capital improvements that you’ve made to your home until seven years after you sell the house.
- Retirement and brokerage account annual statements as long as you hold those investments.
- Defined-benefit pension plan documents.
- Savings bonds until redeemed.
- Loan documents until the loan is paid off.
- Vehicle titles and registration information as long as you own the car, boat, truck, or other vehicle.
- Insurance policies as long as you have them.
- Warranties or receipts for big-ticket purchases for as long as you own the item, to support warranty and insurance claims.
Personal and family records like birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, Social Security cards, military discharge papers and estate-planning documents (power of attorney, will, trust and advanced directive). Keep these in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box.
Reduce Your Paper
To reduce your paper clutter, consider digitizing your documents by scanning them and converting them into PDF files so you can store them on your computer and back them up onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive like icloud.com or carbonite.com.
Your can also reduce your future paper load by switching to electronic statements and records whenever possible.