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pile of papers on table

Paper: What to Keep and for How Long

A question I get asked all the time is, “What papers do I need to keep, and how long do I need to keep them?” So, in response to that I’ve come up with a list of paper retention guidelines. It will help you figure out what to keep and for how long. I must point out that I am not an accountant, CPA, lawyer, or tax specialist. This list is my recommendation, but you must always do what you feel most comfortable doing. If you have questions seek another opinion from one of the previously mentioned professionals.

Auto & other vehicles
Accident records – as long as you own vehicle
General maintenance receipts – 1 year
Insurance documents – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Insurance monthly payments – 1 year
Loan agreement – as long as you own vehicle
Loan payments – 1 year
Purchase agreement – as long as you own vehicle
Sales agreement – 3 years after sale of vehicle
Title -as long as you own vehicle
Warranted services – as long as you own vehicle

Bank
Account documents – for as long as you have account
ATM slips – verify against statement then shred
Check register – verify then shred
Loan documents – 3 year after loan has been paid
Monthly statements – 1 to 3 years

Credit cards
Account documents – for as long as you have account
Monthly statements – 1 to 3 years
Purchase receipts – verify against statement then shred, unless for warranty or taxes

Employment
Awards – individual preference
Certificates – keep until verified with employee records
Handbook – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Licenses & Contract – keep most recent 2 years and discard previous versions
Pay stubs – until end of year and verified by W2
Pension information – keep most recent 3 years and discard previous versions
Performance reviews – 5 years or job termination
Resume and references – individual preference
W2 and tips – 3 to 7 years or forever

Financial
Investment documents & IRAs – 3 to 7 years
Monthly or quarterly statements – 1 year, verify with year end statement
Purchase agreements – for duration of ownership
Sale agreements – 3 years after sale
Year-end statements – 3 to 7 years

Home Improvement
Instruction manuals – if used as long as you own product
Receipts for improvements & energy incentives – as long as you own home
Service contracts – as long as you have service
Warranties – as long as they are viable

Insurance (home owners, life, renters, supplemental, vehicles)
Policies – keep most recent and discard previous versions
Statements – 3 to 7 years

Mail
Advertisements – recycle
Announcements – recycle
Catalogues – 1 month then recycle
Circulars – 1 week then recycle
Correspondence – individual preference
Coupons/offers/promotions – use or recycle
Greeting cards – individual preference
Invitations – until event, then individual preference
Magazines – 1 month then recycle
Newsletters – 1 month then recycle
Newspapers – 1 week then recycle
Pledges – donate and keep for taxes or recycle
Solicitations – take action or recycle

Medical & Dental
Bills – 3 years after payment verification
Explanation of benefits – 6 months
Instructions – keep until no longer valid
Medication information and prescription slips – read then shred or keep until expired
Reference information – 5 years or until outdated
Routine visits receipts – 1 to 2 years
Surgery and special visits receipts – indefinitely or individual preference
*If you itemize your medical and dental expenses keep all supporting records for 3 to 7 years, including travel, parking and toll records.

Military
Admission papers – indefinitely
awards and honors – individual preference
Discharge – forever
Military ID – forever

Property/Real Estate
Deed – as long as you own
Lease agreement – as long as you lease
home improvement documents – until you sell
maintenance – 3 years
mortgage statements – 3 to 7 years
purchase and sale agreement – as long as you own

Purchases
Instructions – if used keep as long as own
Manual – if used keep as long as own
Sales receipt – recycle after decision to keep is made, unless for warranty
Warranty – keep for duration warranty

Taxes
Documents: 1099, 1095 and all forms, alimony, business income & expenses, charitable donations, child care & education expenses, excise tax, gambling, interest statements, investment papers, tax payments, real estate tax, refund receipts, tax return (federal and state), W2s
3 Years – IRS has 3 years from your filing date to audit your return if it suspects good faith errors, and you have 3 years to amend a return if you discover a mistake; therefore keep all tax returns, payment receipts, and supporting documents for at least 3 years.
7 Year – IRS has 6 years from your filing date to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income by 25% or more
Forever – there is no limit if you failed to file a return or filed a fraudulent return

Utilities – electric, gas, internet, phone, other
Bills – verify then shred
Maintenance – 1 to 2 years
Warranties – until no longer valid

Vital documents
Birth and adoption certificate – forever
Death certificate – forever
Deeds – until sold
Divorce decree – forever
Estate-planning documents (health care proxy, life insurance, living will and will, Power of attorney, trusts) – update every 5 years
Passport – keep most recent
Marriage license – forever
Naturalization papers – forever
Social security card – forever
Titles – until sold

©February 2020   Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer   All Rights Reserved

cards

Organize Greeting Cards

Helpful Organizer BlogMy family is large, and I send over 100 greeting cards a year. If we include the Christmas cards I send each year, the number is close to 200. That’s a lot of greeting cards to organize, and a lot of time spent sending cards. I know, but I like doing it. It allows me to keep in touch, and let my siblings and extended family know I’m thinking of them.greeting cards

Here is how I’ve streamlined the process. First of all, to keep the greeting cards organized, I have them in a container that allows me to store two rows of cards vertically.  The container has no lid, and has a designated spot in my closet in my office. The cards are sorted into categories based on type of occasion, event, or holiday, for example anniversary, birthday, Christmas. Each category is labeled, and stored alphabetically. For example, the anniversary cards are in front of the birthday cards which are in front of the Christmas cards. All this helps me easily flip through the cards to find the one I’ll send.

Second of all, to keep track of what to send when, I have all the special occasions listed on a calendar that I update every year in January. Once my calendar is all set I follow theses steps. At the end of each the month, I pull together all the cards that I want to send in the next month. I address and sign the cards, with my husbands help, so they are ready to go when the time comes. I hold the addressed card in an outgoing mail slot on my desk. At the beginning of each week I pick out the cards that need to be mailed, and put them in my weekly tickler file. I then mail them at the appropriate time. I know this is a detailed process, but it is what helps me remember each and every card and occasion. Maybe this is a process you can use and adapt for yourself.

Here are a few additional guidelines that I follow:

  • I don’t allow myself to accumulate more cards than the container will hold.
  • I always search my container of cards before I allow myself to buy new ones.
  • There is no miscellaneous category in my card container.
  • I buy 60 postage stamps at once to save time.
  • I print up several sheets of return address labels at once.

I’ve also tried Send Out Cards, an on line greeting card service. They actual mail the card for you, and email you reminders when it’s time to send.

©December 2016  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All Rights Reserved

paper piles

A Paper Minimalist – Not

Helpful Organizer BlogIn June 2016 my husband and I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game. We each got rid of 930 things. (See how we did it.) For me, one of the most challenging things was to get rid of paper. We agreed that it wouldn’t be fair to count one sheet of paper as one item. So, we counted 25 sheets of paper as one item. Guess how many sheets of paper I got rid of?

I got rid of 1300 sheets of paper! (In addition to other things!) Shocking. Right? Where did it all come from? I’m an Organizer. I shouldn’t have this much paper. This was important paper that held important knowledge. Wasn’t it?

No, not most of it. Are you wondering how I got rid of all that paper? I did it with a 4 step plan.

Step one of my plan was to carve out some time to get rid of paper. I know from working with my clients that paper always takes the most time to organize. That’s why I dedicated 10 hours to get rid of paper. I gave myself at least one hour a night to work. I picked my starting point, my business files, all my business building suggestions, conference notes, marketing tips, networking strategies, business cards, and organizing statistics. Then got to work.

Step two was to get rid of all my easy-to-toss papers. Papers in this category were the duplicate business cards, the outdated business cards, the multiple copies of business cards, the outdated information, and the information in which I was no longer interested. These papers were easy-to-toss, because letting them go didn’t require a lot of thought or effort. Once all the easy-to-toss papers were out of the way, I could look at the rest.

Step three was to decide what to keep from the papers that remained. This paper held information that was, at one time, important to me. But was it still important? How could I decide? What questions would help me? How could I make myself answer honestly. Would guidelines help? This is what I came up with:

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how important is this information to me, now? Anything below a 7 goes.
  2. Could this information be found more quickly and easily on the internet? If yes, let it go.
  3. On a scale of 1-10 how usable is this information now? Anything below a 7 goes.
  4. How soon will I act upon this information? Action must be taken in the next 3 months, or it goes.
  5. Am I holding this information to pass along to someone else? Pass along in 1 week, or it goes

These questions were very helpful. I was able to let go of a lot of paper that I had previously kept. However, there was still more to do. I wanted to get rid of more paper. It was necessary to carve out more time. Another deadline was in order.

Step four is reading through the remaining papers. It’s still happening. I’m taking two hours each week to read and decide. Some I have kept. Others I have tossed. The questions and guidelines in step three help me. It’s an ongoing process, but organizing always is.

©July 2016  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All rights reserved

 

 

paper clutter

Piles Happen

While having lunch with a friend, she proclaimed “piles happen”.  I readily agreed, and shared that the best way to combat piles is to store paper vertically, not horizontally.  For example, instead of setting the mail down on the counter, and letting it pile up, sort it into a divided vertical container.  Another example is to put newspapers, magazines, catalogs, and in a container that holds them upright.

Reclaiming Order

15 minutesWhile looking for a list of skincare products that I wanted to share with a friend, I realized that it was time to reclaim order in my Fashion File.   I knew I had tucked the list into my file somewhere, but when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it.  I quickly deduced that the main reason for this was that there was a surplus of irrelevant information in the file.  It held current and relevant information, but also held some outdated information that was no longer of interest to me.

Therefore, I allowed myself 15 minutes to reclaim order.  I did this by pruning each category of the Fashion File and making decisions on what information was worth keeping, and what was to be discarded.  Here is a list of what I discarded:  8 outdated or duplicate business cards, 1 outdated jewelry catalog, 12 magazine clippings on products, tips, and ideas (I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I clip from magazines, but in my opinion, it’s better than keeping the whole magazine.), 1 outdated skincare catalog, 5 old purchase receipts (shred them), and 8 notes of websites to look at or items to try.  At the end of a very productive 15 minutes I had located the list of skincare products that I wanted to share with my friend, and reclaimed order in my Fashion File.

By taking the time, at that moment, to reclaim order, I stopped the accumulation of paper, and prevented my Fashion File from turning into a huge, inefficient mess.  This is what I call preserving the natural flow of the organizing process.  The natural flow of the organizing process looks like this:

Chart of Organizng Flow

One very important factor to keep in mind when preserving the natural flow of the organizing process is to keep the duration between creating order and reclaiming order short enough, so that the act of reclaiming order doesn’t take too long, and isn’t an overwhelming task.  If we wait too long, or allow too much build up, the act of reclaiming order becomes overwhelming, stressful and frustrating.  If you reach this point, reclaiming order may no longer be a do-it-yourself task.  Just remember, it’s okay to ask for HELP!

 

© August 2015  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All Rights Reserved

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