Do you know how long you are supposed to keep documents?  Do you know when it’s safe to shred?  Having this knowledge is the first step to good recordkeeping. By following these guidelines, you can keep your documents and files organized and updated. Avoid keeping things you don’t need – or discarding something you should have kept permanently!

First—categorize your documents. Examples include past tax returns and supporting documentation, medical information, purchase contracts for large assets, legal matters, employment information, insurance records, property deeds, etc.

Second—determine how you will store your records.  Do you want to archive everything digitally?  Do you prefer to keep paper copies?  When considering how to store your records, think about worst-case scenarios such as fire, burglary, natural disaster, or even something as simple as snooping family members.  Regardless of how you store your records, they should always be easily accessible.

Third—label documents with a “keep until” date.  Refer to the table below for suggested lengths of time to keep your important documents.  Labeling files with a “destroy” date will help ensure that your records will remain organized and current.

Fourth—destroy records that are no longer needed.  To minimize the risk of identity theft, it is very important that you permanently destroy documents.  If the items are paper, shred or incinerate them.  If you have a large amount of shredding, consider taking it to a shredding facility.  Occasionally, community organizations will offer complimentary document shredding on specific dates.  If your documents are stored on a computer, use specialized software to remove files or delete an entire hard drive’s data.  Another option is physically destroying the hard drive if you plan to stop using the computer entirely.

Having a system in place for your record retention will not only make it easier to locate important documents quickly and keep unnecessary documents to a minimum, but it will also give you something priceless—peace of mind.

TYPE OF RECORD SUGGESTED LENGTH OF RETENTION
 

Business Records

 

 
I. Accounting Records 
Bank Statements & Deposit3 yrs
Individual Payroll Records8 yrs
Payroll Timecard/Sheets3 yrs
Expense Reports6 yrs
Accounts Payable and Receivable Reports6 yrs
Trial Balance Reports6 yrs
Payment Vouchers (all)8 yrs
All Canceled Checks8 yrs
Audit Reports7 yrs
General Ledgers and Journals7 yrs
II. Sales, Purchase, Shipping Records 
Sales Contracts & Invoices3 yrs
Requisition/Purchase Orders3 yrs
Export Declaration & Manifests4 yrs
Freights, Shipping, & Receiving Reports4 yrs
Bills of Lading Records4 yrs
III. Personnel Records 
Daily Time Reports6 yrs
Withholding Tax Statements6 yrs
Disability & Sick Benefits Records6 yrs
Expired Contracts6 yrs
Files of Terminated Personnel6 yrs
IV. Corporate Records 
Expired Notes, Leases & Mortgages6 yrs
All Cash Books7 yrs
Contracts & AgreementsIndefinitely
Property Deed & EasementsIndefinitely
Registration of Copyrights and TrademarksIndefinitely
PatentsIndefinitely
Corporate By-Laws and Minutes BooksIndefinitely
Capital Stock & Bond RecordsIndefinitely
Stock Certificate & Transfer ListsIndefinitely
Canceled Checks on Asset PurchasesIndefinitely
Canceled Checks for Taxes & Contracts7 yrs
ProxiesIndefinitely
Labor Contracts7 yrs
Retirement & Pension Records7 yrs
Tax Returns & All Work Papers7 yrs
V. Insurance Records 
All Expired Policies4 yrs
Accident Reports6 yrs
Safety Reports8 yrs
Settlement Claims10 yrs
Group Disability Records8 yrs
Fire Inspection Reports6 yrs
VI. Correspondence 
General – All3 yrs
Tax & Legal Communications7 yrs
License & Traffic6 yrs
Sale & Purchase6 yrs
 

Personal Records

 

 
Tax Returns and Related7 yrs
IRA Contribution RecordsPermanently
Retirement/Savings Plan StatementsFrom 1 yr to permanently
Bank RecordsFrom 1 yr to permanently
Brokerage StatementsUntil you sell the securities
BillsFrom 1 yr to permanently
Credit Card Receipts & StatementsFrom 45 days to 7 yrs (7 yrs for tax-related expenses)
Paycheck Stubs1 yr
House/Condominium RecordsFrom 6 yrs to permanently