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Document Shredding and Retention Guidelines

To protect your personal information, you need to dispose of sensitive financial documents in the right way, at the right time. The following guidelines will help you protect your personal and financial information.

Shredding Guidelines

Document How Long Should You Keep It?
Records for your business money market savings accounts
  • Keep supporting documents (receipts, etc.) for at least three years; typically the IRS has three years to initiate an audit. But you may want to keep these files longer, since audits can be started later in certain situations—such as when fraud or under-reported income is suspected. For more information, visit irs.gov.1
  • Keep copies of your tax returns forever. They're useful to prove past income or residency, or for things such as loan applications.
Investment records & statements
  • Keep investment records that support your tax returns—such as records of purchases and sales from your brokerage—for at least three years (see Tax information, above).
  • It may be useful to keep brokerage statements for many years. Like tax returns, they can help document past income.
Bank statements & canceled checks
  • Keep canceled checks that support tax deductions for at least three years (see Tax information, above).
  • Keep bank statements and check registers for some period—but not forever. These are useful only as long as you might need proof of cash-on-hand or payments for important items, or in reviewing your spending.
Paycheck stubs
  • Keep no more than a few months' worth—only what's needed to prove recent, steady income for loan applications, etc.
  • You might consider retaining your last stub from each employer as proof of your employment or salary history.
ATM receipts Keep ATM receipts only until you have compared them with your latest bank statement(s).
Credit card statements It may be useful to keep these for some period—perhaps one year—in case there is a dispute, you want to return an item, or to analyze your spending.
Credit card receipts Keep credit card receipts until you are sure you will not return the item. Otherwise, retain them only until you have compared them with your latest statement(s).
Insurance Keep insurance policies and claims details for as long as the policy is in effect, or any pending/potential claims are resolved.
Home financial information Keep deeds, mortgages and information on home improvements for as long as you own the home, plus the three-year period for tax purposes, if applicable.

Destroying Paper Files

The best shredder is the cross-cut type, which rips documents into tiny pieces that would be extremely difficult for a criminal to re-assemble.

If you don't own a shredder, commercial shredding services are available. And many financial institutions or community organizations offer public events where you can take your documents to be shredded.

Destroying Digital Files

CDs, DVDs and external drives containing personal information should be shredded, destroyed or made unusable in some manner.

Computer hard drives deserve special attention, since simply deleting files or reformatting the drive does not permanently remove all the data. Before disposing, recycling or donating a PC, the hard drive should be removed and physically destroyed.

Retention Guidelines

Some files should be kept forever. They include:

  • Wills
  • Marriage documents
  • Business agreements
  • Birth certificates
  • Powers of attorney
  • Military records
  • Divorce/child care orders
  • Trust documents

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