How to Pick What to Shred

With identity theft on the rise, if you want to protect your personal information, document shredding is more important than ever. While it is tempting to shred anything with personal or financial data on it, however, you can go too far and destroy information you need. How do you pick what to shred and what to keep?

There are basic guidelines to follow, but the rules have changed over the years, due to an increase in electronic records and the availability of financial statements online. Consult the tips below to figure out what to keep for how long.

“Lifers”

These are documents you should keep all your life. Most legal documents fall into this category, including marriage certificates, divorce decrees, birth certificates, and social security documents. If you have the original copy of a legal document, do not destroy it. Shredding signed or notarized originals can cause real headaches because it can take months and several steps to replace them.

Cancelled checks

Conventional wisdom says you should hold onto cancelled checks for anywhere from three to seven years, but this is not necessary in most cases. Check with your bank to see if they keep electronic copies of customer checks as most do. If your bank does, keep your cancelled checks only until you reconcile them against your monthly statement, then shred. If you ever need a copy of a particular check, your bank will provide you a copy for a small fee.

Monthly bank statements

Keep your monthly bank statements just until you get your year-end statement. Keep your year-end statements for each account for seven years.

Loan information

You need to keep every loan document for the full life of the loan. However, you do not need to keep every receipt for every payment for the full life of the loan. Periodically, you will get statements showing the balance remaining on your loan. When you get these status statements, check them against your records and purge old receipts. When you have paid off the loan in full, attach the pay-off document to the loan and retain it. You should keep this document for at least seven years. Occasionally, a loan will be turned over to a collection agency by mistake, and you will want proof you have paid it off in full.

Warranties

Keep warranties as long as you own the item, or until the warranty expires. Many people file warranties with their respective manuals for major appliances and the like. Keep in mind most warranties are not valid without purchase receipts, so get into the habit of stapling receipts to your warranties and filing them together. Once the warranty expires, destroy it even if you still have the item. The contact information for the company will be in the owner’s manual and you don’t need the extra clutter. It’s a good idea to review your warranties every year; pitch any expired ones and consider renewing any worth extending.

Tax Returns

This rule has not changed. Keep copies of all state and federal tax returns for seven years. 

Pay Stubs

When your W-2 arrives, check it against your pay stubs for the year, then shred those pay stubs. Any information you will need is summarized on your W-2. The same applies to 401K quarterly statements – keep your annual statements forever, but shred the quarterlies at the end of the year.

Home improvement records

If you own your home, keep records of any home improvements until you sell. The improvements you’ve invested in will affect the capital gains tax you pay when your sell. Keep in mind these have to be permanent improvements like a new roof or updated plumbing. Paint or new furniture doesn’t count.

Receipts

Receipts are prime document shredding candidates. You don’t have to save the receipt for something you buy unless you might return or exchange it, if it is under warranty, or if you will need the receipt for a rebate. Otherwise, shred it, particularly if you paid with a credit card. 

Utility bills

You can shred utility bills once they’ve been paid and the check has cleared. If you deduct a portion for a home office on your taxes, scan the bills and shred the originals to reduce paper copies. 

If you have been hoarding years of paper in your basement or attic and are ready to purge and shred, contact www.shreddinghouston.net for information about onsite document shredding services.