When you think of spring cleaning most thoughts go to outside windows, closets, flower beds and more.
Now that spring has come and gone are you still avoiding the 'cleaning' of your financial records simply because you aren't sure what is safe to throw out?
A lot of what you've got stashed in those piles of paperwork and in your overflowing file cabinets can probably be pitched. Just make sure you protect your identity by shredding anything that contains more personal information than you can find in the phone book.
As you look at your files, you may wonder why you are hanging on to so much paper when it seems like everything is going paperless. You may want to discard old records to make room for new ones, but knowing what to keep and what to toss can be confusing.
Here are some guidelines to help:
You can throw away receipts for most purchases pretty quickly, especially if you paid with cash. If you paid with a debit or credit card, keep those receipts until you've checked to make sure your bank or credit card statement is accurate. The only receipts you really need to keep longer are those for home improvements and major purchases (to get the warranty or prove their value in the event of loss or damage) and those you need for tax purposes. Of course, if there's a chance you might want to bring back that expensive new coat or pair of shoes, you should hang onto to those receipts as well, at least until the return period is up.
Keep all personal tax records for three years after filing your tax return or two years after the taxes were paid, whichever is later. (Different rules apply to business taxes.) Hold on to records for at least six years if you underreported gross income by more than 25%, and for seven years if you claimed a deduction for worthless securities or bad debt. It might be helpful to keep your actual tax returns, W-2 forms, and other income statements until you begin receiving Social Security benefits.
You generally have 60 days to dispute charges with your financial institution and credit card issuers, so you could discard statements after two months. If you receive an annual summary, throw out old monthly statements. If your statements include tax information — for example, you use credit card statements to track deductions — follow the guidelines for tax records.
Retirement plan statements.
Keep quarterly statements until you receive your annual statement, and keep annual statements until you close the account. Retain records of nondeductible IRA contributions indefinitely to prove you already paid taxes on the funds.
Real estate and investment records.
Keep at least until you sell the asset. If the sale is reported on your tax return, follow the rules for tax records. Utility bills can be discarded once the next bill is received showing the previous paid bill, unless you deduct utilities, such as for a home office.
Keep documents and proof of payment until the loan is paid off. After that, just keep proof of final payment.
Hang on to policy and payment documents for as long as the policy is in force.
Keep registration and title information until the car is sold. If you deduct auto expenses, keep mileage logs and receipts with your tax records. You might retain maintenance records for reference and to document services for a new buyer.
Hold on to records indefinitely for surgeries, major illnesses, lab tests, and vaccinations. Keep payment records until you have proof of a zero balance. If you deduct medical expenses, keep receipts with your tax records.
Other documents you should hold on to indefinitely include birth, marriage, and death certificates; divorce decrees; citizenship and military discharge papers; and Social Security cards.
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Sources: Broadridge Advisor Solutions.