Cleaning Out Your Documents: What to Keep and What to Discard


Are you doing a financial spring-cleaning this year? Scan your papers to keep an electronic bank of valuable documents. There are certain steps to observe according to the kind of expense, asset or transaction; but, in general, make sure that your digital files of your records are as legible and accurate as your hard copies and also as easily accessible when you need them.

So, what documents do you need to save or discard? Here is a rundown:

Taxes – You may need to keep your tax documents while the statute of limitations applies. These will include the following: W-2 and 1099 forms, invoices, receipts, cancelled checks, mileage logs, proofs of payment and other records pertaining to deductions, income or credits claimed on your return.

Student loans – Never ever discard your student-loan master promissory note because it the legal support for your loans. Keep it until the time you have repaid the debt.

Credit cards – It is wise to keep credit card statements for as long as 7 years.

In case you are already paperless, determine how long to obtain your statements online. This is easier than eventually having to request them via snail mail in the future.

Real estate - Your FICO score measures your qualification for a mortgage and the interest rate you need to pay. You have to reach a score of about 620 to be considered by any lender in order to qualify. If you are not qualified for an affordable rate, you may have to wait before buying a home for the time when your credit improves – it will take more than 7 years to have negative activity on your report.

Insurance – Many do not easily warm up to the need for life insurance for obvious reasons, one of which is the uncomfortable feeling of knowing how temporary life really is. However, accepting the inevitability of our own mortality should convince us of the importance of keeping our original documents, such as assignment of beneficiaries, always available on hand.

Banks/brokers – Regarding documents for brokerage accounts and banks, you probably already hold an edge: majority of financial institutions provide a completely digital alternative, facilitating ease of storage.

Bitcoin – If you have bitcoin or some kind of cryptocurrency, download the most recent records without discarding any. Incidentally, IRS has started cracking down on cryptocurrency holders; and there is still no specific rule or stand regarding how to treat these tokens. Moreover, cryptocurrency transaction logs are most probably likely electronic-based. Knowing the uncertainty, there is no sense in discarding any record of such transactions?

Employee benefits – Employees accumulate so much paperwork from company-sponsored benefits, such as a 401(k), HSK and medical insurance policies. Keep these papers for a minimum of 3 years. As for EoB junk, you can discard them; but papers with tax or legal implications should be safely stored.

Retirement –The most important document is the beneficiary form, which is what you fill out when opening a retirement account and assigns your account to a beneficiary upon your death. It is not your will or living trust. Keep your forms are updated and inform your executor and beneficiaries where you store your papers.

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