Tax Time is the Perfect Time to Evaluate Record Retention Practices

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Organize your files and learn what documents to keep and how long you need to keep them.

It's tax time again. As you take out your shoebox to find all the documentation for your return, it's a perfect time to evaluate record keeping practices. Is your file cabinet full of old utility bills, tax returns, ATM receipts, and even the 12-year-old user’s guide for the coffee maker you received from your wedding?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Many people are not sure how long to keep financial records, especially tax records. With 68.2 percent of the danger of identity theft coming from paper documents, it is a good practice to shred any document with personal information that is past its usefulness.

Here are some quick tips to help organize files:

1) For documents you'd like to keep, but don't have the space for, scanners can help with the retention of records. Store receipts and other documentation in a neat, organized and clear fashion and the shred the originals.

2) Stay ahead of your shredding. As you open your mail, toss all of the marketing hidden in bills and all the junk mail into a cardboard box. When the box is full, have it picked up and shredded by Shred Junk Mail ( It is fast, easy and, best of all, the paper is recycled instead of ending up in a landfill.

3) At least once a year, go through files and shred everything that is no longer needed. A shredding service will save you from wasting a day burning up shredders. Shred Nations can help you find the best shredding solution in your area (

Here is a small list of common documents and how long to keep them:

Pay Stubs: Why do we all keep these? Most have your name, address and social security number -- everything an identity thief needs on one page. Shred them once they have been deposited.

Bank Statements: The only reason to keep bank statements on hand is if you are thinking about applying for a mortgage and need a three month history. Otherwise, the bank has all of your records.

Credit Card Statements: Statements reflect only a proof of charges, and the credit card companies can always reproduce the reports if need be. Keep three months’ statements on hand.

Financial Documents: If you have any stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc., you are inundated with prospectus, privacy notices, address confirmations, etc. Shred these unless you plan to act on them.

Utility Bills: If you write off your utility bills for tax purposes, you may need to keep them as tax records. If you can't write them off, just keep a minimal amount of bills (from the last three months).

Mortgage Documents: The most important documents are recorded in your county records. After you've paid off the mortgage, the bank is obligated to record a satisfaction of mortgage. Keep this document as long as you own the home. If you do renovations, make sure you get a satisfaction of lien from any contractors doing work. Keep them as long as you own the property.

For more information, please call Melinda Powelson at DataGuard USA: 303.988.3403.

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Melinda Powelson
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