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Ready To Declutter All Your Old Paperwork? Read This First!

Read on to learn what documents you should keep around, and how long you’ll have to live with them.

By Kari OakleyPublished 4 years ago 3 min read

Does all the time you’ve been spending at home—and maybe the super-organized dream closets featured on Netflix’s “The Home Edit”—have you ready to declutter for fall? Getting rid of junk and shredding old papers feels refreshing—at least, until you realize you shredded original copies of important financial documents.

No matter how much you wish it were possible, you can’t throw out every single piece of paper in your house! You can send most of your household papers straight to the shredder, but there are a few documents you should plan to file securely for at least a few years. Read on to learn what documents you should keep around, and how long you’ll have to live with them.

What To File for 3 to 7 Years

Wondering how long to keep pay stubs? Paperwork that verifies your income, along with anything else that you might need for filing your taxes, should stay in your file cabinet for at least one year, but potentially as long as three to seven. While paycheck stubs can be discarded once you’re sure they match your Social Security statements and tax forms, you should keep home improvement records, payment receipts for deductible items, and records of medical bills for the full three to seven years. Investment statements fall into this category, too, as does paperwork from selling a house.

What’s special about this timeframe? The IRS can audit your tax returns for any reason for up to three years after you file them. For certain types of tax filings, this window can extend to seven years. With well-organized, original documentation of your tax deductions and income, you’ll breeze through the audit process. Many auditors request original copies of certain documents, so don’t digitize these papers; just hold onto them until the audit period passes.

What To File for One Year

Financial documents that don’t serve a purpose during tax season can usually be discarded after a year. This category includes items like credit card statements, bank statements, and utility bills. If you’re self-employed, keep the utility bills with your tax documents to see if you can claim a deduction for office space. Otherwise, they can be destroyed on the same annual timeline.

You can shred the paper versions of credit card and bank statements if you also receive them online; just be sure that your bank will allow you to access old statements easily for three to seven years. Consider signing up for paperless statements to cut down on physical clutter in this category. Once you’re sure that all the charges on your credit card are legitimate, you won’t need the statements unless you’re itemizing certain purchases for a deduction. Most credit card issuers can now send real-time fraud alerts, so reviewing your statements is often just a failsafe.

What To Throw Away Now

You’re free to rid your house of any documents that pertain to lapsed or inactive agreements, like expired lease contracts and old insurance policies, as well as any tax documents or associated paperwork over three to seven years old. That also applies to any estate planning documents, like wills, trusts, or probate agreements. Expired copies of these documents don’t just clutter up your house—they also create confusion when your executors need to find the most up-to-date versions. If you do your budgeting electronically, feel free to toss paper receipts and invoices as well, especially once the return window has passed.

Even though you don’t need these items for your records, be careful when you dispose of them! Any paperwork with personal information should be shredded before you throw it out. Personal information doesn’t just include your account and Social Security numbers; it also encompasses seemingly less-sensitive items like your home address, birth date, and phone number. With identity theft rampant, you won’t regret the extra caution.

Decluttering can be fun, but tax audits are never a good time! As long as you know what to keep, and you err on the side of holding onto anything tax-related for three to seven years, you can purge your house of unwanted papers worry-free.

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About the Creator

Kari Oakley

Kari Oakley is a fitness trainer from Kenosha Wisconsin. She now lives in downtown Chicago, and loves to get out. She is a big fan of anything adventure, and loves getting a workout in the outdoors.

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    Kari OakleyWritten by Kari Oakley

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