How long should you keep important documents?

Getting rid of documents properly can be key to protecting your personal information online and off.

As your financial life gets more complicated, it’s difficult to know how long to keep documents and when it’s safe to get rid of them. Some things you’ll need to hold on to for your whole life and others for just a few months. You probably already know that important documents such as tax returns, bank statements and paycheck stubs need special attention, but for how long, and in what format? And what is the best way to safeguard all that personal data? We’ve collected seven tips in two categories: How long to keep documents before shredding and how to properly store sensitive information.

How long should you keep documents?


Store permanently: tax returns, major financial records

Your tax returns are important documents to keep as part of your financial history. You’ll want to keep a permanent electronic or hard copy of each year’s tax return and any payments you make to the government. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold onto records of major financial events such as legal filings or inheritances.


Keep for 3–7 years: supporting tax documentation

Depending on your filing circumstances, the IRS may be able to ask you for supporting documentation for three to seven years after you file a return. Knowing that, a good rule of thumb is to save any document that verifies information on your tax return—including Forms W–2 and 1099, bank and brokerage statements, tuition payments and charitable donation receipts—for three to seven years.


Store for 1 year: regular statements, pay stubs

Keep either a digital or hard copy of the past year’s worth of your monthly bank and credit card statements. You should also hold on to pay stubs so that you can use them to verify the accuracy of your Form W-2 when tax season arrives.


Keep for 1 month: utility bills, deposit and withdrawal records

If you’re self-employed, you may need your utility, cable and cell phone bills for tax purposes. Otherwise, you can dispose of them as soon as you verify your payment was processed. You can also dispose of bank withdrawal and deposit slips after verifying them with your monthly statement.

How can you keep your documents secure?


Safeguard your information

For physical documents, designate a safe, out-of-the-way place in your home to store all paper records that protects them from damage or theft. For digital records, be sure to archive and back up all electronic records. It’s a good idea for these records to be password protected.


Guard your online financial accounts

Use complex passwords and change them often to keep your account information safe. Make sure your username and password combination is different from the ones you use for personal email, online merchants and social media accounts. Protecting your computer with antivirus software is also a good idea. If you’re a Bank of America customer, you have free access to IBM’s Trusteer Rapport™ software.


Properly dispose of paper documents

You’ll put yourself at risk of fraud or identity theft if you simply throw away a large pile of private documents, such as financial statements. Invest in a cross-cut shredder that will eliminate all traces of your personal information, or search for free shredding events in your community.

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