Need help getting papers organized

mystiqueJanuary 3, 2007

I am trying to keep our documents organized and need some help. I can handle the documents which come in. I check th mail everyday for bills, the rest I do every 2-4 days. I trash junk mail and pay bills. But what do I do after I pay the bills ?

For eg, I sorted all the paperwork I've collected in the last one year. There are credit card statements (2-3 each for my husband and I), utility bills, car loan statements, mortgage statements, car insurance payments, the tons of pounds of 'Explanations of Benefits" from the insurance company (one medical and one dental) and the gazillion bills from doctors offices and labs.

We paid quite a bit for medical expenses last year so I don't know if we may be able to itemize it during tax season. But I know I probably don't have all the receipts for all the co-pays that I paid.

Somone said to trash credit card statements unless I paid off a big purchase. We bought our TV on a credit card, all our home appliances (we moved into a new home recently) and my school tuition (I am grad school)

How long do Ikeep this ? And for things I have to store for 5or 7 years how do I store them? I am so lost and need help.

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throw most of it out.

Does your school know you paid your tuition? if so, toss the record of payment.

In fact, there is NO need (ever) to keep the STATEMENT long-term, even on the TV; keep the RECEIPT (which hopefully you have stapled inside the cover of the owner's manual). You should check the statement each month to be sure it reflects your payments, and that the charges are what you expect (no attempts at theft, no delays in posting the charge which means you'll have unexpectedly large payment next month, etc.) Then toss.

I think the same is true of car loan statements, mortgage statements, car insurance payments, etc. As long as you have indications that the company is receiving your payment, toss the statement. Somewhere ELSE you will have a record

Toss utility bills. As long as the company has acknowledged that you're up to date, you don't need to keep it. If you ever DID want to know how much you were paying for heating over the last few years, you could call and they'd look you up, and tell you.

Medical bills, and itemizing--that I don't know. If you *think* you might need those receipt for itemizing, then designate a manila envelope (I use a purple one) to be the "tax stuff" envelope, and stick things in there are you go. (my experience has been that unless someone has had some pretty serious illnesses, or no insurance, or both, they won't be able to itemize; could you get your tax preparer to tell you what the threshold of expenditure would be for you, to make it worthwhile to try?)

as for stuff you store for 5 to 7 years--stick it in a manila envelope, label it with the year, and stick them all in a box and put it up in a closet, in an attic (not in the basement--water will be very bad).

I used to keep doctor bills as records of the medical procedure; I've decided that's unnecessary (even w/ a pretty major surgery or two in my past). once everyone knows I've paid, and once I've filed w/ insurance, and gotten reimbursed, etc., I toss them. (sometimes I keep each year's until the next March, and then toss)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 5:11PM
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You should keep a record of payment of your tuition bills. If you have paid it off, get a letter from the school saying that and keep it. Forever. My DH got bill for his WHOLE college tuition 20 years after graduating. He had paid it off long before. But when a new company took over the loans, they sent new bills out to everyone. Luckily he had a letter saying that he had paid it, he remembered the letter, found the letter in an old file and sent them a copy. End of story. Don't know what would have happened if he didn't have that letter, but I requested one when I finished paying off my loans, too.

Other than that, I'd agree with TS - I keep my credit card bills for a couple years, because sometimes I go back and check things for our home businesses, but probably don't really need to save it. I just keep it all filed in a file drawer. I don't keep the drawer packed too full, so it is easy to file each month, and I have files for whatever other categories I need there, too. I have a file box in the closet/attic that holds longer term receipts, etc that I never look at, but need to keep for a while.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 6:04PM
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A habit I learned from my job is to rotate, "tickle" and purge paper records regularly. For example, when I have mailed checks for all my January bills, I rubberband the statements and add a note ("Destroy in March 07) then place them in a pendaflex file.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2007 at 6:39PM
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Have you received an end of year statement of tuition paid from your college? You may have a tax deduction and you need a record for that purpose.

In general, if you can access credit card records online, why keep a paper record? If medical bills are paid and not in any dispute do you need a paper record of payments? A copy of your medical records would be more important to have than a record of how much your treatment cost! :)

Most records can be replaced if need be, but probably won't be needed!

I'm in process of cleaning out years of unneeded records myself . . .


    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 8:35AM
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For anything we pay online, can we throw away the company's mailed bills to us? Is it important to keep a copy of the online statement?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 11:05AM
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I think you need a filing system. It doesnt need to be a file cabinet, a large box will do. Anything that will hold folders that you can label and easily see when you need to.

I suggest that you start TODAY with what you have. Sort out what you know is junk and either shred it or toss it. Papers that you are unsure of, start a file and keep them for now. Then, deal with them later.

Create your catagorize as you sort through your stuff. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop and rest, and start over again when you have the time. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

Work your way through your stuff until it's all taken care of.

As you get in new stuff, put it ALL in one place, a box or bag will do. Just so it's easy to get to. This will keep it from getting lost.

When you have time, once a week, sort through your new stuff, toss what you don't need and keep you do. Set up a system on your calender so you can make notes when bills are due.

The beauty of this system is it's easy. It keeps papers from being strung all over the place, and you can always find what you need.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2007 at 5:32PM
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Like a previous poster said I just put all of them in a box yesterday organized but not very well. I just dumped all insurance statements, bills etc in a file maked medical records.

I threw away most credit card statements, just kept those (4 or 5) where I paid myschool tuition last year. I am still thinking on how to file and organize those papers that I do need to keep.

For eg, the credit card statements where I paid tuition, do I keep them with school stuff or taxes stuff? What about large purchases that we paid off? With the appliances receipts or with credit card statements?

I'm still dreading the "medical records"file. It is bulging at the seams. I guess I will end up tossing all the statements and just keeping receipts.

I know these might sound like dumb questions but can someone share details of a filing system if you have one.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 11:58AM
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Hello Mystique,

This is my first post, though I've lurked off and on for a few years. I've managed the paperwork for my parents, for the family farm, and for myself for many years. It's sometimes been overwhelming so I've come up with a few strategies to minimize the stress.

For family personal expenses, I have a file for bills paid by a certain checking account, with the oldest bill on the bottom, the last on top.

Once, I attempted to keep different folders for different types of expenses even if paid by a single account: Big mistake for me. So easy to misfile and so hard to reconcile at the end of the year. For me, it's been much easier to just have one folder per account per time period. I do take one extra step though. I am careful to notate my check register, and I input the information into a spreadsheet later on. That way, I can sort it by check number, type of expense, date, or any other criteria. I don't make online payments, but the same principle would apply. If it gets drawn out of checking, I'd list it in the spreadsheet. And I compare it all with the bank statements. At the end of the year, I double check it, and then e-mail it to a tax preparer and he determines tax consequences, if any. Excel has an auto-fill feature, that makes this data entry easier than it sounds.

If you do it this way, it's easy to find a record of a payment, without handling the paper too much. Another reason I try to keep the folders of paid bills uncomplicated and chronological is that these have an expiration dates. Having things scattered about will make record destruction more of an ordeal.

So in answer to your question about a credit card statement being with school stuff, I wouldn't do that. I'd keep it in a the file with all the other bills you paid with that checking account, including medical. Otherwise, what would you do when a credit card statement reflects both a school loan, medical bill and an appliance? Contemplating such an issue might make you put it in some "to decide later" file, instead of putting it in a very simple place like your "paid bills" folder right away. Besides, most billing issues in my experience have to do with claims that a check did not arrive, not that a credit card company didn't pay. And most of these issues turn up within a month or two of payment which is another reason chronological filing works well for bills.

The whole point of a filing system is so that you can find things as painlessly as possible. With the register inputted into the computer, you will even know how much of the loan you've paid off in a certain period, without touching the paper repeatedly. But you can also find papers quickly if the loan company year end statement doesn't match your record of payments.

For appliances, my father had a trick of marking appliances with a purchase date in the back. If it breaks down, you know where to find the bill in the "paid bills" folders. (I think the idea of putting it with the manual is a great idea, but I haven't tried it.)

I don't pick and choose what to keep and what to destroy as far as paid bills go. I save all the statements with check numbers and dates written on them....but only for a certain amount of time.

For paid off loans, as others strongly recommend, I'd keep the letter that states that the loan is paid off, and the statement that releases any collateral, in a folder called "loans (paid off.)"

For my mother's Explanation of Benefits papers, because of the volume, I have a folder per year, in chronological order. (But no bills live here. Those are with all the other paid bills.) It's a record of doctor visits and prescriptions. This type of stuff seems overwhelming, but is not so bad, if it's chronological, pruned of unnecessary newsletters and old booklets, and living in clean, p-touch labeled folders. But I don't think EOBs have a tax consequence. The bills and the health premiums are what might matter, and those I keep with all the other bills. I consider EOB and prescription records only a type of medical history. I choose to keep them so I can tell how long my mother's been taking a medication, when she had a certain procedure done, etc.

Your filing system is your personal creation. It doesn't have to conform to any of these ideas, only to the way that you think. I hope this is helpful.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2007 at 2:16AM
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I agree, once they've been acknowledged, toss the bills.

Our credit card company sends us a statement each year itemizing all charge purchases into categories--medical, restaurants & entertainment, automotive, misc. retail, utilities,-- and then again by month. For that reason we charge all our co-pays, and major purchases along with other things. I keep those statements and have a concise record of all payments for years back in a tiny space. Sandy

    Bookmark   January 7, 2007 at 12:26AM
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the credit card statements where I paid tuition, do I keep them with school stuff or taxes stuff?

school stuff. Only stuff directly accounted for on the tax return should be in the taxes stuff.

What about large purchases that we paid off? With the appliances receipts or with credit card statements?

with the appliance manual. Or in the 'house" folder if it was the furnace.

Basically, keep them with the thing they're related to. The credit-card account is merely a CONDUIT--not a final destination.

what would you do when a credit card statement reflects both a school loan, medical bill and an appliance?

I will say it again: a credit-card STATEMENT is not the thing to keep. Keep the credit-card RECEIPT for major purchases. In fact, legally, a receipt is proof of payment; a statement is not, at least in the IRS's eyes (for my "flexible spending" account, I have to have receipt or an Explanation of Benefits; statements are not acceptable).

If it's something like school, where perhaps it was automated and you don't have the receipt, get the final statement from the SCHOOL to keep, proving you paid your tuition. If you don't have it, write the school or the loan program and ask them to print out a statement or a paid-off letter.

We asked the mortgage company to write us a letter saying, "this letter is to affirmd that Talley Sue & Hubby paid off their mortgage in full." We kept that, and tossed everything else related to it.

I have the following big, general folders:

Home (infrastructure stuff like windows; appliances that stay w/ the home; insurance; map of how to get to my place)

Apt Sale (MY stuff related to the home: info we got from the prev. owners, mortgage stuff, etc.) --don't ask me why these are separate, but I like them that way. I guess stuff like buying, selling, getting a nenw mortgage, feels separated from the home itself; the address of the window-repair place doesn't)

Co-op (papers related to the co-op board; this has some infrastructure stuff, but it's the stuff that's not MY exclusive domain)

Auto (bill of sale, extra keys, owner's manual, receipts for repairs which I keep so I can find the repair guy again, accident reports, pay-off letter from this car, and "total" letter and retired title from the OLD car in case a computer glitch tries to stick me for a traffic ticket on a car I don't own)

Mom & Dad Investments (inside here are smaller folders for each of the investment accounts we have; I stick the latest statement in the back and try to remember to throw the one in front out. I only INTEND to keep the start-up paperwork and the last year's worth of statements)

Kid #1 Investments (ditto the littler folders)

Kid #2 Investments (ditto the littler folders)

Fun (here's the zoo membership and map w/ notes about which highway exit to take to get to the parkinglot we prefer; fliers from apple-picking places, etc.; maps of state parks)

Adult purchases (NOT home related; here's the owner's manual for the TV, stereo, humidifier, etc.--not all necessarily major purchases; just any that I think I might need again to find out what size filter to buy, or how to change the batteries, etc.; receipt stapled to the inside of the front cover)

Kid purchases (crib booklet & receipt, toy owner's manuals, etc.; when we open a package, I decide if we might need the mfr's info for battery-changing, repair, etc.; and keep it if I think the answer's yes.)

---on those "purchases" file, anytime I ever go through looking for something (time to change the battery on something), I weed as I go. At any given time there's probably stuff I could toss, but it doesn't take up that much extra space compared w/ the time I'd spend keeping it throughly up-to-date. "occasionally weeded" is good enough for me

I have a 6x9 card-file drawer (special ordered at Staples years ago; not sure if it's possible to get anymore) for bills, which I consider to be more disposable. There are the basic categories: Telephone, Electric, Cooking Gas, Visa, etc.

I keep about a year's worth, and toss them out. Generally, in February I start readying everything for our taxes, and I go through them then; DH may need

    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 10:41AM
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I'm surprised nobody has said "Shred and RECYCLE". We started keeping a large basket in which we recycle old papers and it gets filled up to the top every week. I never toss any papers that have info on them - always shred, especially credit card offers, bills, medical. All junk mail goes in the recyle, newspapers, etc. If your town doesn't have a recycle, well, they are just behind the times. Get green and request a recycle center.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 1:12PM
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by "toss," we MEAN "recycle if that's what your garbage collection folks ask you to do."

We mean "get it out of your house."

This question was not about HOW to toss stuff, but about WHAT to toss. So, we simply didn't get into the specifics of how.

I recycle paper trash, as a matter of course. I don't feel any need to talk about it every time I throw something away.

Just for future reference, you should know: when we say "Toss it!" we ALSO mean "give it to the Goodwill/school/neighbor/YourCharityHere if you can."

"Toss is" simply means, "get it out of your house by whatever means works for you."

    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 5:27PM
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"Get green and request a recycle center"

Our recycling place doesn't take shredded stuff. And they don't take mail items at all. Only newspaper, cardboard, and thin cardboard like cereal boxes. Always call before assuming. Recycling still isn't that practical where the materials would have to be hauled long distances to be used.

Except for someone like talleysue, living in a true urban environment, most of us could get rid of mail waste in a compost pile in the backyard. It only takes 9 square feet.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2007 at 11:57PM
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I throw out any statement and utility bill that reflects my last payment.

If you are dealing a large amount of medical bills, I find it is easy to make an excel sheet and list the date of service, provider name, Insurance payment amount from your EOB, and the date and amount of your paid balance. At the end of the year, you can total the paid balance amount and know your final amount. I agree those pesky co-pays are hard to remember! Don't forget to enter RX co-pays also!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 3:29PM
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Its easy enough to get a yearly total printout from the pharmacy for tax purposes. And DH gets one from the VA for his meds too. Much easier than keeping everything. Sandy

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 6:47PM
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