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How to Organize Important Documents

How Long Should I Keep Important Documents?

You don't need to keep everything forever. In fact, many of the documents you think you need to keep can make their way to the trash pile.

Here are a few guidelines that can help you decide what to keep and for how long:

  • Bank statements - If you don't have online access to your account, keep your bank statements for three years [source: BBT]. You may want to consider going green and signing up for paperless statements. Doing so can help you eliminate clutter and have all your bank statements available at the click of a mouse.
  • Tax returns - How long you keep tax-related documents depends on what type of activity the statements show. As a general rule, keep these documents for seven years [source: IRS].
  • Credit card statements- After checking the accuracy of your statements, shred them. If your statement has any identifying information whatsoever it needs to be properly disposed of to minimize the risk of identity theft [source: Money Management International]. However, if you've made a large purchase or haven't yet received a purchased item, make sure you have a copy of your statement in case you need to dispute the purchase. Your credit card records can prove you paid.

Other documents such as W-2s and retirement savings plans should be kept until you actually retire [source: IRS].

Knowing what to keep and for how long is a good place to start on your road to organization. Now that you know what to keep you need to know where to keep it. Check out the next page for some innovative ways to store your important documents.