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Portable safe

What papers need to be kept?

Going paperless sounds like a great idea, but unfortunately, there will always be some papers we need to keep. These papers are often referred to as vital documents. I recommend keeping only one of them, the most recent copy and keeping it in a safe spot. I use a portable fireproof lock box for my important documents.

  • birth certificate
  • marriage license
  • social security card
  • military discharge recordspassport
  • driver’s license copy
  • car registration
  • car ownership documents
  • medical insurance identification card and policy
  • homeowners insurance policy
  • auto insurance policy
  • life insurance policy
  • bank checking account number & routing number
  • bank saving account numbers
  • investment records
  • deeds, titles and licenses
  • family historical information
  • critical addresses and mailing lists
  • tax returns
  • business records required to survive or rebuild
  • will and estate planning documents
  • passport

If you have questions about papers that are not listed above please refer to my blog article titled Paper: what to keep and for how long. If you’d like more guidance, below are some questions you can ask to help you determine what’s worth holding on to.

What is the specific need and use of this paper?
Is this current and up-to-date information?
Did I request this information?
Will this paper help me complete a project I’m working on now?
Are there tax, legal, or insurance reasons to keep this paper?
Is this information important and referred to often?
When have I needed to reference this type of information? How often?
How easily can this information be obtained elsewhere or again if needed?
Will this information be outdated by the time I need it?
What is the worst that will happen if I throw this paper away?
Is doubt and indecision the only reason for keeping this paper?

Paper management can be challenging, but the more often you make decisions the better off  you’ll be.

©May 2021  Janine Cavanaugh, CPO®   All rights reserved

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

Organizing Tax Documents

Keep one tax document folder labeled with the current year, and add papers to it as they collect throughout the year.  Once your taxes have been filed for this year, transfer the documents to a bin labeled past tax documents, and write the specific years that are included in the bin.  Include with your past tax documents,  all your supporting tax papers, financial records for that year, and proof of tax payment.  Store the bin in a remote area.  Start a new tax folder for the next year.

Taxes & Paper Management

 

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Helpful Organizer Newsletter – April 2014
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Side Notes:

***    I’m currently reading a book about Feng Shui.  Did you know that a dirty stove can make you tired and depressed?  It can even make it harder for you to earn money.  So, please clean your stove, and visualize improved income.  I did and booked two clients!

***   Spring Organizing

Spring tends to be a busy month for homeowners.  They spruce up, clean out, lighten up, and prepare for a summer of fun and sun.  What do you do?  Please share your spring organizing tips with me.

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Happy spring!  Do you associate spring with tax time?  I apologize if I just put that in your head.  Would it help if I provided you with a tax preparation list?  

The “T” word

What are you doing April 14th?  Do you find yourself hunting and scrambling to find all the documents you may need to file your taxes?  I created a list of all the documents my husband and I need to prepare our tax forms, which has made that process much easier.  We file jointly and very simply, but I thought our list may be helpful to you.

Here it is:
W2 forms
Mortgage documents – form 1098
Investment documents – form 1099
Excise tax yearly bills
Real estate tax yearly bills
IRA documents – form 5498
Interest from bank account – form 1099
Medical documents
Proof of health care insurance (MA residents)
Value of donations made throughout the year

Below are the additional documents I need to include from my business:
Estimated tax payments for the year – form 1040
Income total
Expenses total – including the following category totals: donations, electric, food, Internet, marketing/advertising, membership dues, mileage, networking, office supplies, phone, postage, training, and travel

Please note:  The above list is just a memory jogger.  If you have questions or concerns consult a tax specialist or CPA.  Janine Cavanaugh, CPO© can not be held accountable for any improper tax filing.

Never Ending TaskDid you know the one category that most of my clients want to address, even if it’s not the focus of our appointment?  Organizing paper!  Paper management is like dishes and laundry, a never ending task.  Paper can accumulate and pile up so quickly that it leaves you scratching your head, wondering where it all came from.  It helps if you create guidelines for yourself on what to keep, and for how long.  If you’d like a list of my paper retention guidelines, please email me.  I’d be happy to share my guidelines with you.
From,

Janine Cavanaugh, CPO®
(508)-699-6652
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