You've probably made a couple of New Year's financial resolutions -- increase your retirement savings, get out of debt, check your pockets for change before putting your pants in the washing machine.
Before tackling any of that, consider first purging your filing cabinet. It's easier than losing those few pounds you put on over the holidays from eating those home-baked treats. In addition, everything will be organized when you take on your new financial resolutions. You might even create enough room to allow you to actually file things this year.
While we're thinking about New Year's resolutions, you may also want to consider simplifying your financial accounts.
So, get a stack of file folders and fire up the shredder. Here's the rundown on paperwork you can trash and records you should keep.
Bills. Toss them after one month. You might even want to consolidate your utility bills into one folder, and shred the old statements when the new ones arrive. They should reflect last month's payments.
Credit card receipts. Shred them when you've gotten the statement and checked its accuracy. The exception: Receipts for major purchases like jewelry or appliances should be kept as long as you own the item. File them away with your insurance information.
Insurance information. Get rid of paperwork for any policies that expired, like the last five years of old car insurance policies you might have filed away. The exception: You might want to keep copies of expired policies if you still have claims outstanding. Keep your current policies and any modifications.
ATM records and debit card receipts. Hang onto these slips of paper until the bank statement arrives, then reconcile and shred them.
Bank and credit card statements. Keep these for a year, then shred. The exception: Hang onto anything that might support a tax deduction, like a medical or business expense, or a charitable donation. File those away with the relevant tax records. You should also hang onto those little brochures with indecipherable legal jargon laying out the terms and conditions of your credit card accounts.
Pay stubs. Keep your year-end pay stubs and shred the rest. The exception: You might need a few recent pay stubs in certain cases, like applying for a mortgage.
Brokerage and retirement account statements. There are a couple schools of thought on this question. You could shred your monthly statements after a year if you get an annual statement. Keep those annual statements indefinitely. If you want more detailed records for tax purposes or investment analysis, you'll want to hang onto them longer or even indefinitely. Either way, make sure you keep your stock purchase and sales confirmation statements, at least until you sell the stock. After that, if the stock was held in a taxable account, you'll want to file them away with your tax documentation.
IRA contribution receipts. Keep your IRA contribution paperwork, including your annual 401(k) account summaries, indefinitely. You may need them when it comes time to withdraw money from these accounts.
- Tax documents. The IRS has three years to audit your taxes under typical circumstances, but most experts suggest you keep these records for seven years. After that, you might want to purge much of the supporting documentation and just keep the annual returns. To be honest, tossing old tax records makes me nervous, so I must confess I hang on to everything indefinitely. Whatever you choose, the really old records can be stuffed in a box in the attic so they don't clutter up your everyday financial filing.
A couple of additional thoughts: First, and most importantly, make sure you shred anything with identifying information. Many identity thieves ply their devious craft by picking through trash bins.
Also, you may be loath to part with any financial records, but keeping fewer documents often means a more workable filing system. If the drawer's too stuffed, you'll never look at the old paperwork and you'll never file the new paperwork. Here's one place to streamline: You probably have a massive pile of appliance and electronics manuals with their warranties stuffed in the back. Go through the stack and toss paperwork for anything you no longer own, like that newfangled cassette player you bought 20 years ago.
I would also advise that you trash that towering pile of financial reading that you never got around to last year and now threatens to bury you in a freak office landslide. Start fresh. It's no fun to begin a new year feeling like you're already behind.
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