Knowing when to save and pitch personal documents -


Knowing when to save and pitch personal documents

Daniel Greene has lived in his Charlotte home for 20 years. During that time, he has accumulated several boxes containing personal papers and documents.

"After a while, things seems to add up to a great big pile of documents I don't need any more with personal information on them, security numbers, my address, my wife's information, my children's information," Greene said.

Recently, when Greene started discarding some of the paperwork, he said, "My gosh, it's going to take me a long time if I do this myself."

The paper shredder in his home office just couldn't tackle the job.

"I've had two personal shredders and I've gummed them up with not only staples, but all sorts of paper clips that get caught in the mechanism," Greene said.

So, he called ProShred Security, a professional shredding company with locations across the country. 

At the push of a button, robotic arms descend from the ProShred truck and pick up a trash bin jam-packed with Greene's personal documents.

Daniel watched as a video monitor attached to a camera inside the truck showed a giant shredding machine devouring his personal information.

Most of us are like Daniel. We're not hoarders, but when it comes to paperwork, we have a tendency to file away all our documents just in case we need them one day.

"If you've got your first pay stub ever, well, that might be a cool thing to keep, but you don't need all the others that are in between. It's not serving any purpose," said Tom Bartholomy, President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont.  

One drawer in an average-size file cabinet should provide sufficient room to hold most homeowner's important papers.

"Anything beyond that, you really have to take a hard look about just what am I keeping, and why," Bartholomy said.

Group your documents into four categories: those you need to keep one month, one year, five years, and forever.

Credit card statements, bank statements and utility bills fall into the one-month category.

"Anything you receive on a monthly basis would ordinarily only need to be kept on a monthly basis," Bartholomy said.

Your 401K and other investment account statements should be kept at least a year, but when the end-of-year statements arrive in the mail, get rid of all the quarterly reports!

Next, is the five-year category.

"Tax documents, tax returns and the materials that go along with that to prove whatever deductions or anything else you're claiming on your taxes," Bartholomy said.

Remember, the IRS can audit you within a three-year period or even longer in some cases.

"If you don't have that information, you're going to be at a disadvantage as you walk into the audit process," Bartholomy warned.

Documents you need to hold onto forever should be placed in a fireproof box at home, or a safe deposit box at your bank.

These documents would include divorce decrees, birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, wills, papers showing a paid mortgage, or titles to cars.

Here are some additional tips to help you organize your personal papers.

First, scan important documents and back up to a cloud service external hard drive.

Second, realize that shredders aren't a bad idea. Just purge things on a regular basis so it doesn't pile up.

Finally, never put old documents in the trash or leave them laying around your house because someone you invite inside your home could steal your personal information.

If the chore is more than you can handle, paying a small fee to a professional document shredding company could give you peace of mind.

"I can go back to my work and rest with assurance that nothing is going to end up in the hands of folks who are going to make a profession of stealing personal identity," Greene said.

The Better Business Bureau has a document retention sheet which lists dozens of various documents you might have as well as how long you should keep them. It's a good idea to keep this in your file cabinet to refer to so you'll know exactly what to keep and for how long.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:  

  • ProShred Security charges $100 for up to 1 full rollout bin and $40 for each additional bin.
  • The IRS offers lots of tips in an online article entitled "How long should I keep records?" <Source:>
  • The following Records Retention List is from the Better Business Bureau <Source:>

How Long Do You Need To Keep Specific Documents?

Accident reports/claims (settled cases) - 7 yrs.
Accounts payable ledgers & schedules - 7 yrs.
Accounts receivable ledgers & schedules - 7 yrs.
Audit reports – Permanently
Bank reconciliations - 2 yrs.
Bank statements - 3 yrs.
Capital stock & bond records: ledgers, transfer registers, stubs showing issues, record of interest coupons, options, etc – Permanently
Cash books – Permanently
Charts of accounts – Permanently
Checks (canceled – see exception below) - 7 yrs.
Checks (canceled for important payments – i.e., taxes, purchases of property, special contracts, etc. – Permanently
Checks should be filed with the papers pertaining to the underlying transaction.) - Permanently
Contracts, mortgages, notes, & leases (expired) -7 yrs.
Contracts, mortgages, notes, & leases (still in effect) - Permanently
Correspondence (general) - 2 yrs.
Correspondence (legal & important matters only) - Permanently
Correspondence (routine) with customers and/or vendors - 2 yrs.
Deeds, mortgages, & bills of sale - Permanently
Depreciation schedules - Permanently
Duplicate deposit slips - 2 yrs.
Employment applications - 3 yrs.
Expense analyses/expense distribution schedules - 7 yrs.
Financial statements (year-end, other optional) - Permanently
Garnishments - 7 yrs.
General/private ledgers, year-end trial balance - Permanently
Insurance policies (expired) - 3 yrs.
Insurance records, current accident reports, claims, policies, etc - Permanently
Internal audit reports (longer retention periods may be desirable) - 3 yrs.
Internal reports (miscellaneous) - 3 yrs.
Inventories of products, materials, and supplies - 7 yrs.
Invoices (to customers, from vendors) - 7 yrs. Journals - Permanently
Minute books of directors, stockholders, bylaws, and charter - Permanently
Notes receivable ledgers & schedules - 7 yrs.
Option records (expired) - 7 yrs.
Patents & related papers - Permanently
Payroll records & summaries - 7 yrs.
Personnel files (terminated) - 7 yrs.
Petty cash vouchers - 3 yrs.
Physical inventory tags - 3 yrs.
Plant cost ledgers - 7 yrs.
Property appraisals by outside appraisers - Permanently
Property records, including costs, depreciation reserves, year-end trial balances, depreciation schedules, blueprints, & plans - Permanently
Purchase orders (except purchasing department copy) -1 yr.
Purchase orders (purchasing department copy) - 7 yrs.
Receiving sheets - 1 yr.
Retirement & pension records - Permanently
Requisitions- 1 yr.
Sales commission reports - 3 yrs.
Sales records - 7 yrs.
Scrap & salvage records (inventories, sales, etc.) - 7 yrs.
Stenographers' notebooks- 1 yr.
Stocks & bonds certificates (canceled) - 7 yrs.
Stockroom withdrawal forms - 1 yr.
Subsidiary ledgers - 7 yrs.
Tax returns & worksheets, revenue agents' reports, and other documents relating to determination of income tax liability - Permanently
Time books/cards - 7 yrs.
Trademark registrations and copyrights - Permanently
Training manuals - Permanently
Union agreements - Permanently
Voucher register & schedules- 7 yrs.
Vouchers for payments to vendors, employees, (includes allowances and reimbursement of employees, officers, for travel and entertainment expenses)- 7 yrs.
Withholding tax statements- 7 yrs.

The retention period is the number of years from the date the tax return was filed. All material presented is for general information only and should not be acted upon without professional assistance.


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