Save It or Shred It? Know what documents to keep and for how long.

shutterstock_121141942 (2)I have a confession to make. I am not as organized with my personal documents as I would like to be. At work everything is locked up, securely filed away or shredded. At home not so much.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I protect the information and documents that go through my office. We have strict rules regarding data storage and information that must be complied with. At home, no one stands over my shoulder making sure that I am smart about how I store my personal documents.

Admittedly, I am not an expert on this topic, but I know enough to know that getting organized starts with properly destroying any documents that are no longer needed.

On May 5th, Focus Financial is hosting a shredding event in which clients — and advisors — can bring their personal documents to be shredded by a professional shredding company. Shred-it of MN provides “secure document destruction” services to over 300,000 customers around the world, as well as community Shred-it events like the one we are hosting.

If you are a client, you have already received a notice with all the details and are encouraged to come. If you are not a client, here are some tips on what documents to keep and what you should destroy.

Keep forever. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but at a minimum the following documents should be kept in a secure place forever.

• Birth and death certificates
• Social security cards
• Pension plan documents
• ID cards and passports
• Marriage license
• Insurance policies
• Wills, living wills, power of attorney, and other legal documents
• Titles to vehicles you own
• House deed and mortgage documents

Tax returns. You may have noticed that tax returns aren’t on the above list. Most experts recommend keeping your tax returns for up to seven years. However, once your return is organized and stored in a safe place, I say keep it forever. Odds are your tax returns aren’t taking up that much space. Besides, there are some situations in which the IRS can go back and audit you indefinitely. The owner’s manual for the old appliances in the house you used to own? Those you can toss.

Other documents. Unless you need them for tax purposes, most receipts can be shredded after you have cross-referenced them on your credit card statement or the window for returning that item has expired. Other documents should be kept for a longer period of time, then destroyed. How long depends on the type of document.

For a list of what documents to keep and for how long, check out this article by Consumer Reports. Published in 2010, the article is a little dated, but the content is “evergreen” as they say and as valid today as it was then. also has a handy chart that should help you sort it out. For a direct link, click here.