By Michael Axe

We’ve all asked that burning question to ourselves while going through old paperwork, “Should I keep this or throw it out?” The answer is, “It depends.” Some documents you can toss (shred) right away, others you should keep for a year, some a few years and some pieces of paperwork you keep with you till the day you die.

Here’s a cheat sheet you can use when going through your important documents.

Pay Stubs                              
  • One year – then shred once you receive your W-2.
Tax returns 
  • 7 years – the IRS can audit up to 6 years after filing.
Investment Statements         
  • Monthly statements – keep for one year then toss after receiving annual statement.
  • Annual statements – keep as long as you own the investment, plus 7 years.
Mortgage Paperwork
  • Keep for 7 years after you sell the home.
Credit Card/Bank Statements
  • Toss after verifying everything is correct, unless needed for taxes (then keep for 7 years).
    Note: Statements are typically available online or can be ordered from the financial institution (for a fee), so you may not have to keep physical copies  with you.
Utility Bills
  • Keep until you get the next bill showing that you paid, unless you need it for taxes (then keep for 7 years).
Auto and Personal Loans
  • Keep original signed loan documents and agreements until you receive a paid-in-full letter/document from the lender and have verified that the loan is showing paid in full on your credit report.
  • Keep the paid-in-full letter for 7 years, to ensure the loan drops off your credit report.
Medical Bills/Claims
  • 7 years
Receipts
  • For day-to-day shopping receipts such as groceries, restaurants and gas – keep until you can verify the correct amount has cleared the account.
  • Home repair/upgrades – 7 years after selling the home.
  • Business expenses – 7 years
  • Higher priced items – keep for as long as you own the item in case the item needs to be returned or repaired, or if the item is stolen and you need it for an insurance claim.
Collection Items Keep the following types of items forever in the event the collection company attempts to come after you again.

  • The written agreed-upon amount
  • A copy of the cashed cashier’s check that was sent
  • A copy of the letter that says the debt has been paid