Many of us accumulate stacks of paid bills, reconciled statements and receipts along with the unopened junk mail. You can shred and toss some paperwork immediately, such as the pile of credit card offers. Other documents need to be filed away. These include bills, receipts, bank statements and insurance policies. How long to keep each depends on the particular document, what it was originally for and how you have used it since.
You can toss utility bills, telephone bills and other types of regular monthly expense records typically one year after payment if the record is not needed for other financial business, according to financial advisor Suze Orman. For example, if you claim the home office deduction on your tax return, you will need to retain the relevant bills with your tax papers.
Bills you paid for home repairs or improvements should be kept as long as you own the home, according to the federal government's website USA.gov. This also holds true regarding bills for auto repairs and maintenance in case you later want to sell the vehicle.
How long you should keep a receipt depends on what it is for. A receipt for merchandise covered by a warranty needs to be filed away safely at least until the warranty runs out.
Keep receipts for large purchases until you no longer own the item. For example, suppose you purchase a $4,000 cedar wardrobe and you later decide to sell it. With the receipt, you can show potential buyers the original purchase price. You may also need it for insurance purposes should something happen to the piece.
Receipts for tax-deductible items should be filed with a copy of the tax return on which you claimed the deductions. For these receipts, the Internal Revenue Service strongly suggests you keep original documentation for a minimum of three years after you file your tax return. However, in case of an oversight or error on a prior return, keeping all tax documentation for seven years from the filing date is best.
Most banks will give account holders a copy of a bank statement upon request. There may be a time limit on how far back in time you can go. The U.S. government recommends you retain bank statements for at least one year. However, if you need a bank statement to support tax information you filed with the IRS or state revenue agency, keep the original statement with the pertinent tax return.
Many insurance policies are revised and updated periodically. In this situation, be sure and retain the current policy and declaration for auto and home insurance policies. Jack Hungelmann, insurance adviser with Bankrate, recommends for health, life, long-term care and disability insurance policies, to keep all documentation as long as the policy remains in effect. In other words, all insurance policies with active coverage should be kept indefinitely.
When documents containing account numbers or other personal identifying information are no longer needed, be sure to shred and discard securely.