Spring cleaning and tax season go together like peanut butter and jelly. Every year we are faced with decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. How long do I need to keep my tax returns? Receipts? Brokerage trade confirmations? Having a system to find these records is just as important as deciding which records to retain so let’s start there.
After gathering all of your important papers, divide them into 3 piles: an active file, dead storage, and items to discard. The active file should include documents and financial records that you access on a regular basis.
• Appliance manuals, warranties and service contracts
• Bank statements
• Bill payment receipts
• Bills awaiting payment
• Credit card information
• Education records, diploma, transcripts, etc.
• Employment records
• Family health records, including vaccination histories
• Health benefit information
• Household inventory
• Income tax working papers
• Insurance policies
• Loan statements and payment books
• Password list
• Receipts for items under warranty
• Safe deposit box inventory (and key)
• Tax receipts, such as those received for charitable deductions
All active file papers over 3 years old are considered dead storage. This may not necessarily apply to everything. For example, frequently used appliance manuals should stay in the active file. See the accompanying chart at the end of the post for more details.
Items to Discard
Always use a shredder to discard any materials containing your personal information. If you have a large amount of paper to shred, look for community shredding events.
• Canceled checks for cash or non-deductible expenses
• Expired warranties
• Pay stubs, after reconciling with W–2
More Detailed Chart
Below is a chart showing you how long you should keep specific documents. You can download the chart as a PDF as well to print out and keep.