How to Organize Paperwork (and move your life into the twenty-first century)
If you’re like many Americans, you adhere strictly to the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to life and therefore, if it’s important to me, it’s in a pile somewhere close by. Everyday living produces a lot of paper; but some are extremely valuable and need to be treated as such, whether we choose to discard it or file it. Call it Spring Cleaning and hunker down for one of life’s more time-consuming necessities. You need to dive right in. And yes, it’s going to be little messy at first; it’s going to be okay, too. Just follow this guide and you will go from clutter and chaos to culled and catalogued.
1) Open those drawers, all of them.
File cabinets, junk drawers, your glove compartment, suitcase, briefcase, and pull out all those papers. You know where they are. You may have been bumping into them for many moons now. Other items quickly filling up waste baskets and garages are newspaper and magazines.
2) What paperwork can I discard?
- Pay stubs that have already been satisfied with your W-2
- Manuals of appliances that have been replaced
- Receipts of nondeductible expenses
- Outdated magazines and newspapers
*TIP: Organizations that recycle magazines and recycling centers will pay up to $100 per transaction for your newspapers, food containers, and even junk mail!
3) What do I keep and for how?
There a certain hard copies that are rarely needed but should never be discarded. Those should be kept in either a burglar/fire resistant safe or a bank’s safety deposit box. Examples are below:
- Birth Certificates (forever)
- Bank statements (1 year)
- Hard copies of your filed tax returns (How long should I keep my tax records?)
- Receipts of tax deductible expenses (Keep for 3 years after date of filing. If you filed Feb 15, 2007, keep until Feb 15, 2010)
- Receipts of large ticket items and home improvement records (as long as you own the property/items)
- Contracts (until renewed or updated)
- Insurance, car, home, motorcycle etc (until renewed)
- Life insurance records (forever)
- Passport (You only need to keep old your old passport if it contains visas that are still current)
4) Items that should be kept and have COPIES
These are common examples of documents that should not only be kept safe, but should have copies given to an executor or lawyer, an heir, or your financial advisor An example of such important papers to be protected are below:
- Veteran’s and Military Discharge papers
- Real Estate Deeds
- Marriage certificates
- Divorce Decrees
- Photos of your possessions
5) When in doubt, put it on a thumb drive.
Just not sure of what to keep? Avoiding future panic and frustration can be as easy as snapping a picture of them with your phone and emailing it to yourself. For a more organized approach, scanned copies or pictures should be stored on a drive and can be simply kept in a drawer in your house. Try products like NeatCollect® cloud scanners and digital filing systems.
6) Consider contacting a professional shredding company…
When the time comes to rid your home or office of seven year old bank statements, ten year old tax returns, or employee benefits documents when you change jobs, an on-site shredding truck can give you the peace of mind that they are indeed destroyed. These are great resources for safe and surprisingly affordable destruction of your confidential paper-based documents, hard-drives, CDs, etc.