Papers: What to Shred and What to Keep

When it comes to shredding, I like to think I’m up there with the best of them. Every piece of junk mail, every credit card balance transfer, every scrap of paper with our name and address — all of our personal information goes through our shredder. Financial information is at the top of the “to-shred” list.

The problem is that I have two large piles of papers left to be shredded, thanks to a recently emptying of my old, plastic “file cabinet.” Utility bills from 5 years ago? Unnecessary. Store receipts from 3 years ago? Sayonara. Credit card statements from 8 years ago? Why do I still have you?

In this electronic age, is there really a need to keep paper statements, receipts or paystubs? Turns out that there’s some paperwork that you should hang onto for a few years.


What to Keep

Tax Returns: Liz Weston recommends filing away tax returns and the associated forms for 7 years — that’s how long Uncle Sam can take to audit you. If you’ve submitted a fraudulent tax return, there’s no cap on the audit time.

Loan Paperwork: If you have a year-end summary, you can ditch the periodic statements. Also keep loan payoff notices indefinitely.

Investment Statements: Same as for loan paperwork — hang on to the monthly or quarterly statements until you get a year-end summary, then toss others. Keep the year-end paperwork until you’ve withdrawn all the money in your investments.

Receipts for Major Purchases: You may need these for insurance purposes if you’re claiming a loss or damage through a policy.

Home Improvement Paperwork: Knowing how much you spent on renovations/upgrades can help add to your home’s price, should you decide to put it up for sale.

Insurance Policies: Hold on to these for as long as the policy is in effect, if not longer. I like to file away previous homeowners and automobile policies for comparison purposes, to make sure the coverage matches up from year to year.

Personal ID Documents: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, old IDs.


What to Shred

Old Receipts: Once you’ve reconciled receipts to credit card statements or checking accounts, throw those suckers in the shredder. Exception: Receipts for major purchases, as outlined above. We mainly have receipts for our debit-card purchases, such as groceries or gas.

Bank and Credit Card Statements: From now on, I’m only going to keep one year worth of statements. Which might be overkill, since I can access years of statements online through the credit card companies. Our bank has gone “paperless” and no longer send account statements, so that’s fewer documents to store and shred.

Utility and Phone Bills: I’m only filing a few months’ worth of these, in case I need to dispute a charge. Again, digital statements are all available through my online accounts.

Paystubs: If they’re over a year old and you have your W-2 form showing income for the year, chuck your paystubs.


Shredding can be a stress-buster. SHRED! DESTROY! ELIMINATE! Sure, the machine is doing all of the destroying, but it’s sort of satisfying to watch a whole piece of paper become confetti.

I just wish I’d started sooner. Back to shredding credit card statements from 2004!

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