Keep Or Toss: How Long Should I Hang On To My Financial Documents? - A+ Federal Credit Union (2024)

Determining whether to keep or shred financial documents can be confusing – use our simple guide to get started.

Every year, it’s nice to do a bit of “financial spring cleaning” and declutter your filing cabinet, desk drawers, and the various hiding places where miscellaneous scraps of paper tend to accumulate and multiply. Here’s what you need to know:

Keep Or Toss

Keep Forever

If you’re long overdue for some organization in the paperwork department, start here! This category includes all the super important life stuff that’s usually issued to you only once and therefore difficult to replace:

  • Birth and death certificates
  • Social Security cards and ID cards (even expired versions)
  • Passports (even expired versions)
  • Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
  • Adoption papers
  • Copies of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney
  • Adoption papers
  • Records of paid mortgages
  • Safe-deposit box inventory
  • Military records
  • Retirement and pension plans

Your “keep forever” documents should be kept in a secure place. A locking file cabinet in your home is a popular choice but consider upgrading to a safer alternative – such as a fireproof safe in your home or a safe-deposit box at your credit union or bank. Also, consider scanning these documents and having them backed up on the cloud – password protected, of course – so you can access them remotely and quickly in an emergency.

Keep For Seven Years

  • Income tax returns
  • Any forms that support income or a deduction on your tax return (e.g., receipts, canceled checks, W-2 forms)
  • Records of selling a house or stock (documentation for capital gains tax)
  • Records of paid-out loans
  • Records of sold investments
  • Mortgage documents
  • Medical records (including prescriptions and health insurance information)

This category includes all supporting documents for your income tax return, plus a couple of other miscellaneous ones. This may seem like a long period of time, but it’s not an arbitrary number – seven years is how far back the IRS can go to audit a tax return. The breakdown is a little more complex; you can be audited for any reason up to three years after you file a tax return and up to six years after you file a tax return if you omitted 25% or more of your gross income – which technically makes the auditing window three to seven years.

An audit is an evaluation of your tax return to verify its accuracy and to ensure compliance with tax laws. Many people associate being audited with having committed tax fraud or some other dishonest financial behavior, but, in fact, some taxpayers are audited on a random basis each year.

If audited, you’re required by law to provide the documentation that supports the claims made in your tax return. In some cases, additional information may be required to verify a claim you’ve made – it might just be a matter of providing a canceled check, a receipt, or a bank statement. In other instances, the audit may take place on-site, meaning at your residence or workplace, or at an IRS office. Being well-organized is the best way to make the process as quick and painless as possible.

Keep For One Year

  • Bank and credit card statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Quarterly investment statements
  • Receipts for large purchases
  • Canceled checks
  • Paid medical bills

This category mostly consists of monthly statements. A good rule of thumb is to keep your monthly statements for the current year, and then shred them once you’ve reconciled them with an annual statement. The exception is any statement needed for tax purposes – those get grouped into the “keep for seven years” category.

Keep For 30 Days Or Less

  • ATM slips
  • Utility and phone bills

ATM slips can be tossed once you’ve checked them against your monthly bank statement. Utility bills and phone bills can be shredded after you’ve paid them unless they contain tax-deductible expenses.

Keep While You Own

This bonus category is a catch-all for agreements and contracts that are active for varied amounts of time:

  • Warranty information
  • Insurance documents
  • Vehicle titles and loan documents
  • House and mortgage documents
  • Pension records/retirement plans

You’ll want to hang on to the records in this category for at least as long as you own the asset. For major purchases, stapling the original purchase receipt to the user manual or warranty information will keep everything in the same spot, should you need to make a warranty claim. Documents relating to improvements and upgrades on your home or vehicle should also be saved alongside your title and loan papers.


Sorting through financial documents is a straightforward process once you figure out how long you need to keep specific types of documents. Doing a periodic cleanup will help keep your documents organized and decluttered in the event you need to access them.

Keep Or Toss: How Long Should I Hang On To My Financial Documents? - A+ Federal Credit Union (2024)


Keep Or Toss: How Long Should I Hang On To My Financial Documents? - A+ Federal Credit Union? ›

Keep For One Year

How long should you keep financial documents? ›

Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.

What records should be kept for 7 years? ›


Knowing that, a good rule of thumb is to save any document that verifies information on your tax return—including Forms W-2 and 1099, bank and brokerage statements, tuition payments and charitable donation receipts—for three to seven years.

How long should I keep old utility bills? ›

Utility Bills: Hold on to them for a maximum of one year. Tax Returns and Tax Receipts: Just like tax-related credit card statements, keep these on file for at least three years. House and Car Insurance Policies: Shred the old ones when you receive new policies.

How long should you keep line of credit statements? ›

In this case, it's wise to keep credit card statements for at least three years, preferably six if there is a high risk of audit. Credit card statements are vital to prove any business expenses, large purchases or payments (of several thousands of dollars) or tax deductions like charitable donations.

How long should you keep utility bills and bank statements? ›

Keep For One Year

A good rule of thumb is to keep your monthly statements for the current year, and then shred them once you've reconciled them with an annual statement. The exception is any statement needed for tax purposes – those get grouped into the “keep for seven years” category.

Do I need to keep bank statements for 7 years? ›

You should keep bank statements for at least seven years, in case the IRS needs to verify transactions during an audit. If you have ample storage space, consider keeping them for longer.

Should I keep my 20 year old tax returns? ›

Keep tax forms and supporting paperwork related to income, expenses, property, and investments for at least three years after filing. After that, the statute of limitations for an IRS audit expires. The IRS can look back six or seven years if you under-report income or claim a loss for bad debt or worthless securities.

What records should be kept for 10 years? ›

You should keep your limited company business records for six years from the end of the accounting period. Some documentation will need to be kept for 10 years, including the company's statutory books and board meeting minutes. If you are self-employed, it is advised you keep records for at least five years.

What papers to keep and what to throw away? ›

What to Save
  • Birth/death certificates.
  • Social Security cards.
  • Marriage licenses.
  • Divorce decrees.
  • Pension plan documents.
  • Copies of wills and living trusts.
  • Military discharge papers.
  • Copies of burial deeds and plots.

Is there any reason to keep old utility bills? ›

Keep for a year or less – unless you are deducting an expense on your tax return: Monthly utility/cable/phone bills: Discard these once you know everything is correct. Credit card statements: Just like your monthly bills, you can discard these once you know everything is correct.

Should I keep old utility bills? ›

To hold for a year or less (with some buts):

Monthly utility/cable/phone bills: Once you know the bill is correct, toss it. But if you deduct some of these costs on your tax return, you'll want to save them with your return (more on that in a moment).

Should old bills be shredded? ›

After paying credit card or utility bills, shred them immediately. Also, shred sales receipts, unless related to warranties, taxes, or insurance. After one year, shred bank statements, pay stubs, and medical bills (unless you have an unresolved insurance dispute).

Is it safe to throw away old credit card statements? ›

Here are several often-overlooked documents that should be securely destroyed. We all know it's important to shred our most sensitive pieces of information—credit card statements or applications, tax-related documents, identity cards, etc.

What to do with old bank statements? ›

According to the Federal Trade Commission, all documents with sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and bank account information, should be shredded to protect your identity from theft. Old bank statements and many other types of documents fall under this category.

Which of the following financial documents is recommended to store permanently? ›

Aside from tax returns, related records you should keep for at least a couple of years include: W-2 forms, 1099 forms and other records showing proof of income. Canceled checks, sales receipts, credit card receipts and any other proof of payment that backs up tax claims or deductions.

What financial records should be kept permanently? ›

Keep Permanently
  • Birth Certificate.
  • Contracts, mortgages, notes and leases.
  • Legal correspondence.
  • Custody agreements.
  • Death certificates.
  • Deeds, mortgages, bills of sale.
  • Divorce papers.
  • Employment taxes for household employees (records and returns)

Can the IRS go back more than 10 years? ›

In some cases, the IRS can take more than 10 years to collect tax debts. This happens when an event causes the clock to stop ticking on the statute of limitations and the deadline gets extended. This is called tolling the statute of limitations.

Do I need to keep old 401k statements? ›

In general, 401(k) plan records must be kept for a period of not less than six years after the filing date of the IRS Form 5500 created from those records. However, records necessary to a participant's claim for plan benefits must be kept longer.

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