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How long should you keep important documents?

Knowing which documents to keep—and how to store them—can help you protect your personal information

Read, 3 minutes

As your financial life gets more complicated, it’s difficult to know how long to keep documents and when it’s safe to get rid of them. Some things you’ll need to hold on to for your whole life and others for just a few months. You probably already know that important documents such as tax returns, bank statements and paycheck stubs need special attention, but for how long, and in what format? And what is the best way to safeguard all that personal data? Here’s a quick list of financial documents to save, based on the time they should be kept.

KEEP FOREVER

Tax returns, major financial records

Your tax returns are important documents to keep as part of your financial history. You’ll want to keep a permanent electronic or hard copy of each year’s tax return and any payments you make to the government. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold on to records of major financial events, such as legal filings or inheritances. You can easily access your paperless statements and documents online and keep them safely stored there.

Additional documents to keep forever

Birth and death certificates
Social Security cards
Marriage licenses
Divorce papers
Military discharge documents
Life insurance policies
Wills and living wills

KEEP 3 TO 7 YEARS

Supporting tax documentation

Depending on your filing circumstances, the IRS may be able to ask you for supporting documentation for three to seven years after you file a return. 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.

Quick tip

Even if your records are no longer needed for tax purposes, you may want to verify that the documents aren’t needed for other important financial institutions. Your insurance company or a creditor may have different record-keeping requirements than the IRS.

KEEP 1 YEAR

Regular statements, pay stubs

Keep either a digital or hard copy of your monthly bank and credit card statements for the last year. It’s a good idea to keep your digital copies stored online if you choose to go paperless. You should also hold on to pay stubs so that you can use them to verify the accuracy of your Form W-2 when tax season arrives.

KEEP A MONTH

Utility bills, deposits and withdrawal records

If you’re self-employed, you may need your utility, cable and cell phone bills for tax purposes. Otherwise, you can dispose of them as soon as you verify your payment was processed. You can also dispose of bank withdrawal and deposit slips after verifying them with your monthly statement.

3 ways to keep your documents secure

It’s important to make sure your sensitive information is safe and accessible.

number one
Safeguard your information

For physical documents, designate a safe, out-of-the-way place in your home to store all paper records that protects them from damage or theft. For digital records, be sure to archive and back up all electronic records. It’s a good idea for these records to be password protected.

number two
Guard your financial accounts

Use complex passwords to keep your account information safe. Make sure your username and password combination is different from the ones you use for personal email, online merchants and social media accounts. Protecting your computer with antivirus software is also a good idea.

number three
Properly dispose of paper documents

You’ll put yourself at risk of fraud or identity theft if you simply throw away private documents, such as financial statements. Invest in a cross-cut shredder that will eliminate all traces of your personal information, or search for free shredding events in your community. Also consider having paperless statements and documents, which can help reduce the risk of identity theft posed by lost or stolen mail.

Close Disclaimer

The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial, tax or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its affiliates, and Khan Academy, assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional and tax advisor when making decisions regarding your financial situation.

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