Valdosta Daily Times

September 23, 2012

Brittany's Budget Diary: Kick your document hoarding to the curb!

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you know that I am currently re-decorating and re-arranging my entire condo. My most current project has been moving my office from the back of my living room to a spare room.

In this process, I have discovered six years of bills, receipts, tax returns and various other financial records. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m very organized, but there’s just something about financial records that intimidates me.

What do I do with them? Will I need them in 10 years? Will a homeless person attempt to strike gold by deciphering my bank account (the joke would be on them, of course)?

To solve my conundrum, I turned to the financial Bible ... There’s only one person I love more than myself, and that is Mr. Clark Howard. Of course, he had an entire article devoted to record, paperwork and file keeping.

Which paperwork to keep:

• Tax returns, keep forever.

• Tax return documentation, for seven years.

• Contracts, forever.

• Real estate records, forever.

• Last pay stub of a job if you leave that job.

• Last pay stub of the year until you reconcile with your W-2.

• All mortgage payment checks (statements), until mortgage is paid off.

• All student loan payments, until loan is paid off.

• Car loan payment stubs, until car is paid off.

• Canceled checks, seven years (this one shocked me).

• Bank deposit slips, until you reconcile your statements.

• Bank statements, until a calendar year; store with tax returns if they will be used as deductions.

• Home improvement records, ownership period plus seven years.

• Investment records, shred monthly and quarterly statements as new ones arrive; hold on to annual statements until you sell the investment.

Which records to toss:

• Credit card statements that are more than three years old.

• Past insurance statement.

• Old utility bills, except the most recent one from your old address if you’ve moved.

• Recently paid bills (statements), once you have something saying they’ve been paid.

After I learned what to keep and what to toss, I then had to find a cheap and, of course, decorative way to store my documents.

I took old shoe boxes and covered them with cute wrapping paper and even used old cereal boxes covered in wrapping paper to file big piles of related documents. I prefer these methods to a bulky and expensive filing cabinet because you can easily stack the boxes in the top of a closet out of the way. In fact, I got rid of my file cabinet because I found this method made me stay more organized.

I know for those of you who largely do your banking and bill paying online like me, here are some things I have started doing.

• I created a file on my desktop where I place copies that verify I have paid my student loan bills. My folder is titled “Student Loans” and then inside the folders is subsequent folders with the company names. You can set most accounts to email you confirmations when they have received your payments, and this is something I highly recommend. Also, this isn’t just for student loan bills, you can do this for any important bills you pay online.

• I also created a binder of all of my account numbers, my log ins, my passwords and my bill due dates. Make sure you don’t have this sort of information out in the open, but it makes paying bills so much easier.

• I don’t recommend keeping electronic financial documents in email folders, especially if you have a free email through something like Hotmail or Yahoo. You never know what could happen and if you lose all your documents; the company holds no liability. Also, email accounts have a storage max so you will have to delete periodically.

• If you keep financial records on your computer, burn the documents to a CD that you can place in a binder. This is an easy way to protect your documents if your computer crashes and a way that is much more convenient than dealing with tons of paper.

Well, my budgeteers, that’s all I have for you this week. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook at Also, follow me on Twitter @VDT_Brittany.