Papers - 3 yr or 7 yr? And WHAT do I need to keep?

jenswrensSeptember 29, 2010

Trying to do some paper decluttering today.

I know you're supposed to keep some things for 7 years (someone else said 3, so now I'm confused).

But WHAT exactly am I supposed to keep for 7 years? Bank statements, electric bills, credit card bills, pay stubs, home depot receipts, any of these, all of these... ??? What else?

Is there a valid resource out there somewhere (book, online) that will outline exactly what I need? I mean a KISS kind of book.


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"Bank statements, electric bills, credit card bills, pay stubs, home depot receipts, any of these, all of these... ??? What else? "

Bank statements... I don't

electric bills... I do, along with the canceled check as we need those for tax purposes

pay stubs... I don't

home depot receipts... I would IF there are items that are tax deductible and/or affect your cost-basis upon resale

My short answer is that you keep what YOU need to keep. Everyone's situation is different.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 6:51PM
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The only thing I ever keep for a long time is our tax return copies and related reciepts and papers. These I keep forat least 7 years because the government can go back that far in an audit. They go in a separate tote. When the tote gets too full I throw out the ones furthest back.

I have a portable file box with folders that I keep all my papers and reciepts in. All the tabs are labelled with bills I recieve. In the front are 2 folders 1 labelled mail and 1 labelled unpaid bills. The bills I get in the mail go in the mail folder every day when I get the mail. I try to open them right away but if I don't have time that day , they are in a safe place until I get to them.

When they are opened they go into the unpaid bills folder and once a week I pay them.

Bank statements, visa and bank related things have their own folder.

My bills and warrantees for appliances, furniture and things like that go in envelopes and in a 2 folders near the back.

You could set up your own file box with your own labels.

I don't keep utility bills, visa reciepts or bank statements longer than 2 years. I pay them at the bank and If everyone of the ones I have are marked paid they can't say I owe them. If you do business on line, then printing reciepts or statements is a good idea so they are marked paid

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 6:53PM
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The one paper thing I threw out and now deeply regret is stock statements listing all my dividend reinvestments and stock splits. I would like to sell some now and recreating that information going back 25-30 years is a nightmare. If I had kept them I would know how much capital gains tax I would owe.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 10:45PM
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Ongoing investments like stocks, keep until 100% sold out, then keep as tax records for 7 years: Any statement showing a change of number (purchase, splits, un-splits, reinvestments). Statements that do not show any change of number of shares don't need to be kept past the year uned summary.

Mortgage papers: until you sell the property.

Tax things like interest statements, medical deductions, credit card stuff, etc.: 7 years unless it's investment stuff.

Normal bills and statements: 1 year maximum. My housemate has a 12-month stack and he adds October 2010 and tossed October 2009.

Proof you paid traffic tickets and other legal crap: I had a recurring problem with a phantom traffic ticket that took THREE years to resolve. Every time they messed with their computer system it would pop up as unpaid.

Medical records: Until the condition is gone, plus a few years ... housemate had to haul out records for one of his kids 6 or more years after the evaluation. It was that or pay $$$ for a new evaluation.

Military enlistment and discharge: permanent
Marriage papers: permanent
Divorce papers: permanent
Birth certs: permanent
Death certs for family members: permanent (I recently had to show a death cert for my mom, who died in 2001)

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 8:15AM
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I have online banking and they have records available seven years back. I keep most receipts only for a month or two. As long as I know my bills are paid, I'm fine with throwing out utility bills, etc. Warranties I keep forvever. I keep them in as folder in my file cabinet. I'll purge only if I've replaced an item. For example, old cell phones. Tax records should be kept for three years. Longer than that is not normally necessary. If you haven't been auditted after three years, you probably never will be.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 8:42AM
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I wad audited this year for 2005...
they can go back 7 years. Longer than that is fraud is suspected.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 1:19PM
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"I wad audited this year for 2005...
they can go back 7 years. Longer than that is fraud is suspected."

Totally didn't proofread THAT...

I was audited this year for 2005...
they can go back 7 years. Longer than that if fraud is suspected.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 2:41PM
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I was just reading what Consumers Reports has to say about how long to keep these things--check out the latest issue on the newsstand.

But I've checked into several sources on the web, including Suzie Orman's site--there's no "right" list--they all seem to vary a bit.

One thing that Consumers said: Keep your pay stubs until your W2 form comes, then "reconcile" it. I have no idea how or why--maybe to total up state and income taxes paid already? I've never done that.

Utility bills, I keep for a year. Some sources say you can ditch them after you pay the bill, and also, if you do any online bill paying with the utilities, they have your payments on file for a while. One useful thing about having a year's worth of utility bills somewhere, paper or online, is that they can come in handy when you want to sell your home and need to provide an average utility cost for heat, water, electricity on the real estate property listing ad.

Also, they can give you a quick visual if you're thinking of paying the budget route--where your personal costs are averaged out and you pay the same amount each month.

Home Depot receipts? Are you talking about new windows or a new power drill? Staple them to the warranty booklets. Anything less, reconcile with your credit card bill if you charged them, shove them in a Ziploc bag and store them a secondary storage place for 6 months or so in case somethng breaks and then toss them afterward.

Also, the Consumers magazine also had an item about what you should store in your safety deposit box, if you have one at the bank. Social Security card, passport, car title, original insurance documents were among them, and many others. Worth looking at!

I tend to keep my credit-card statements a few years longer than most people. I find that I'm occasionally wondering where I bought something from, framing supplies, for example, and a quick look at the statements reminds me which website had what I was looking for.

For all my papers, I have a closet that stretches far back, and in it I have, in the front, a set of 2 stacked rolling filing bins, for the current year. Stuff that I know I want to keep longer goes in a cardboard file box that gets pushed to the back of the closet. (Also in that closet is a metal shelving piece holding all my stationery supplies, some fabric, craft supplies, my computer warranty and related documents and extra cords [in a large Ziploc]).

So documents are all in the same space, but divided between what I really need more frequently and stuff I want to hold onto just in case!

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 2:21PM
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You may want to keep tax records FOREVER. If your wages or self-employment are missing on your Social Security record, the only way to get proper credit for your earnings is with tax records and their evidence, such as W2 employer tax withholding forms. There is no time limit. If you have the evidence, Social security can fix it. If this worries you, it should, as it will affect your monthly Social Security check when you retire, become disable, want Medicare or for your survivors when you die. By the way, you can check your Social Security record by phoning 1 800 772 1213 and asking for your complete earnings record printout to be mailed to you. This is different from the yearly letter Social Security sends you, which only lists the last 3 years.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 10:23AM
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