Keep or Toss? Learn When and How To Get Rid of Old Documents

Knowing which confidential documents to keep and when to destroy them can help you protect your personal information.

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As you make financial and life decisions, you generally create a paper trail. From mail to confidential documents to receipts, it can be difficult to keep it all organized. And then there’s the matter of knowing how long to keep important papers and how to properly dispose of old documents to keep your information safe. Use the guidelines below and start clearing the clutter. 

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Documents you can toss after one year

Keep the following for the short term: 

  • ATM receipts and bank deposit slips: And confirm that they match the information on your online accounts or monthly statements. 
  • Bank statements: Hold on to them until tax time and then keep for three years if they include tax-related expenses. 
  • Credit card receipts: Discard them after a purchase shows up on your statement unless you need them as records for taxes or as proof of purchase in case you need to return an item or make a warranty claim.
  • Pay stubs: Save them until you reconcile them with your W-2 form and yearly Social Security statement. 
  • Quarterly investment statements: File them until you can verify the information against year-end summaries. (Annual statements should be kept for three years.)
  • Utility bills: Keep them longer (three years) if you need the bills as a record of business deductions for tax purposes. 
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Documents to keep for three years or longer

Follow these guidelines:

  • Income tax returns: Most IRS audits involve returns filed within the past three years. The IRS could add years, but they don’t often go back more than six.
  • Car title: Keep the title until you sell the vehicle. 
  • Records of selling a house: Keep the documents for three years after selling. 
  • Loan documents: Save the final statement showing the balance paid in full for seven years.
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Documents to keep forever

Finally, hold on to these documents in perpetuity:

  • Birth and death certificates 
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce papers 
  • Life insurance policies 
  • Social Security cards 
  • Wills and living wills 
  • Estate planning documents 
  • Military discharge documents 

The best way to properly dispose of documents that contain your personal information is to shred them before discarding them. If you don’t own a paper shredder, check for community shredding events near you or ask about AAA Shred Events at your local branch. 

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