Skip to content

Spring Cleaning: Paperwork edition

Keep your paperwork in mind when you begin working on your Spring cleaning checklist. This is a great time organize your records and declutter your financial life.

Which documents do you really need to keep?

TAXES: Keep individual tax returns and records for three years (but up to seven years if you have the space). Records that relate to your tax return including bills, credit card receipts, invoices, mileage logs, and other items related to deductions and credits are included in that three-year recommendation.

FAMILY PAPERS: Wills, home sale or property agreements, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, adoption papers, citizenship papers, school transcripts, employment records, birth certificates, immunization records and Social Security cards are all documents that should be kept indefinitely. They are often difficult and expensive to replace.

OTHER IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS: Keep court papers, contracts, insurance policies, loan papers, leases and/or passports as long as they are in effect. Once updated, you can destroy the old copies.

Where is the best place to store your documents?

FIREPROOF HOME SAFE OR SAFETY DEPOSIT BOX: Use this for documents that are hard to replace (e.g. birth or death certificates, marriage/divorce documents, car titles, Social Security cards, recent tax returns, etc.).

ACTIVE FILE IN A DRAWER: Use this method for anything that hasn’t been done yet or that you may want to review within a few months (e.g. outstanding bills, bank statements, child care payment records).

DEAD FILE OR FILING CABINET: Use for any documents you might need to look at in future years (e.g. tax papers older than three years, school transcripts, report cards, certificates). These items could be stored in an attic or basement, if needed.

How should documents be organized?

An alphabetical system usually works best. For instance, if you have several vehicles, start with a primary file named “Auto.” Within that file, have folders to keep records for each automobile (also in alphabetical order) – Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota – and so on. This will not only help you, but also family members who might need to find records on your behalf. Don’t forget that electronic storage is useful as well! Scanning paperwork and naming the electronic folders alphabetically as mentioned above is a great way to organize. Keeping them in more than one location (such as a jump drive at home and a jump drive in a safety deposit box) is a good idea.

If you decide to throw out old documents, ask yourself “Is there any personal identifying information on this?” If so, consider purchasing a small shredder to dispose of those documents safely.

Ashley Bales

Ashley Bales

Ashley Bales is a Family Financial Education Specialist headquartered in Madison County.  Her office is located at 137 West Main St., Fredericktown, Missouri. Contact Ashley at 573-783-3303 with questions or comments. MU is an equal opportunity/ADA institution. University of Missouri Extension does not discriminate on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability in employment or in any program or activity.

Leave a Comment