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How long should you save financial documents — and where should you store them?

If it feels like your home is drowning in receipts, statements and other paperwork, you’re not alone. Keeping track of paper and digital documents can be challenging. But you can get your head above water and gain peace of mind by knowing which financial documents to keep and for how long, how to securely store them, and how to safely dispose of them.

How long should you keep documents before shredding?

There are some items you’ll need only for a short time, while others you’ll need to keep your entire life. This guide breaks down which documents to save based on the amount of time they should be kept.

Documents to keep less than a year

Most monthly bills or receipts for routine purchases can be shredded after the payments have been credited to your account. This includes:

  • Receipts for everyday purchases like groceries and gas
  • Utility bills
  • Bank deposit and withdrawal slips and ATM receipts

Documents to keep for one year

  • Monthly bank and credit card statements
  • Paid medical bills
  • Pay stubs
  • Quarterly investment statements

Documents to keep for 3–7 years

  • Income tax returns and supporting documentation (keep for 7 years)
  • Cancelled insurance policies
  • Records of loans paid in full
  • Records of selling a house, stocks or other investments

Documents to keep while active or current

Save documents related to major purchases and anything you’ve insured or is under warranty, including property or investments, for as long as you have the asset.

  • Car titles
  • Insurance policies and documents relating to insurance claims
  • Receipts and related warranties for major purchases
  • Property deeds and records
  • Receipts for home improvements

Documents you will want to keep forever

  • Personal identification like Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates
  • Legal documents like marriage or divorce papers, adoption records and estate planning documents (wills, medical directives, beneficiary information)
  • Financial documents like life insurance policies, retirement accounts and pension plans
  • Military papers, education records and diplomas
  • Medical records such as test results, vaccination records and blood type

Where (and how) to safely store your important documents

Whether you’re more comfortable storing physical or digital documents, or both, focus on creating a safe, reliable place and process that works for you.

  • Create a storage system that’s quick and easy for you to access and is secure from theft and damage.
  • For paper storage, consider a secure filing cabinet, a safe that’s fireproof and waterproof, or a safe deposit box.
  • For electronic storage, consider an external hard drive, flash drive or a cloud-based storage like Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud.
  • Organize your documents in clearly labeled folders so they’re easy to find when you need them. Create categories like tax returns, estate planning and car loan.
  • Scan and save digital copies of important physical documents — like birth certificates, marriage certificates and passports — in case the originals are lost or destroyed.
  • Schedule time quarterly or annually to shred and dispose of outdated files.

Security tips and considerations for storage of financial documents

Take steps to protect your personal information and prevent fraud when you save and store documents.

  • Shred any physical documents containing personal information before tossing to reduce your risk of identity theft.  
  • Password-protect your digital records using strong passwords.
  • Password-protect any digital devices where you’ve stored financial documents.
  • Encrypt any documents or folders on your computer so that only you or someone you authorize can access them.
  • Make sure to tell trusted friends or family members where your documents are stored and how to access them.

Additional resources about storing your financial records

Keep your personal and financial information accessible and safe from fraud with these helpful tips from Experian and the Federal Trade Commission.

The Internal Revenue Service also shares general record keeping tips for taxpayers, as well as tips for small businesses and self-employed individuals

Having a plan to save and store your important financial documents can save you time and stress when you need to locate items quickly. To further reduce paper clutter and simplify your financial life, consider signing up for electronic statements and online bill payment. Commerce Bank offers digital banking tools to help you quickly and easily manage your financial life.

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