How, in fact, do people decide what records are important to keep and what they can discard?
Even though each family or household must work out its own system, some general guidelines can be helpful. As a starter, ask yourself a few questions:
- How easy or difficult would it be for other members of your household to figure out your record system? Do you even have a system?
- Who besides you knows where information about the family household assets and obligations are kept? Have you put together a list of important contacts like tax counselors, attorneys, bankers, brokers, insurance representatives, employers, creditors, and debtors?
- And of course, how long do I need to keep different types of documents or information before it is safe to discard them?
Records You Should Consider Keeping For life
Vital Life History Records - Originals of certificates of birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, immigration, citizenship, and death certificates.
Military Records - Copies of your own records, proving enlistments, deployments, rank, separations and retirement.
Medical Records - Keep records of all major medical milestones from your life, including medical conditions, diagnoses, treatments, etc. Don’t forget to include records for dental procedures as well.
Public Benefits - Records that established your eligibility for public benefits, such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, etc.
Insurance Policies - Keep, or at least record policy information and contact numbers for any mortgage, credit, flood, deposit, or other insurance you hold, and record where these policies are stored.
Records You Should Consider Keeping 3 to 6 Years
Tax Documents - Tax forms and source records for the previous three years.
Canceled Checks and Bank Statements [for tax records] - Keep the canceled checks written for deductible expenses (put with your tax records). You can shred the rest.
Medical Receipts - Keep receipts for copayments and deductibles and for reimbursements from medical reimbursement accounts.
Accident Reports and Vehicle Claims - Retain these for six years.
Records to Destroy Periodically
Pay Stubs - Keep a record of your pay for one year.
Mutual Fund Annual Statements - Keep your end-of-year comprehensive statements until you get those for the next year.
Periodic Insurance Policies - Once you get a new policy, you can destroy the one that has expired or been replaced.
Statements For Utility and Telephone Service - You can destroy these monthly statements once you pay the bills.
(This article first appeared in the Spring 2012 APERS Retiree Newsletter.)