Perspective

What important papers should I keep, and where should I store them?

March 18, 2019 by PEMCO Insurance

family estate planning paperwork.Reader suggestion from Elinor K.

As more of us choose electronic banking, online bill paying and paperless accounts for services like insurance, our home file cabinets feel a little less stuffed. Still, with data breaches grabbing headlines every few months, you may not feel comfortable trusting everything to the cloud. Nor should you, since some important records also should be kept in physical form.

So what to keep where? We checked with experts like Consumer Reports, Bankrate.com and Money magazine to help answer that question. (Keep in mind, these charts are guidelines only. If in doubt, consult your legal or tax adviser.)

 

IN A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX

They're straight out of your grandparents' era. But for documents that can't easily be replaced, a safe deposit box at your bank or credit union still offers hard-to-beat peace of mind. Just remember to keep a photocopy at home of everything placed in a safe deposit box. If the box's owner dies, you may need a court order to open a sealed box (particularly in the case of a single signer or lost key). You'll also want to make sure the executor of your estate or anyone who has power of attorney over your affairs has access to the box.

Type of record How long to keep
Insurance household inventory (USB, photos, receipts for major purchases)Permanently/until updated
Permanent life insurance policiesPermanently
Term life insurance policiesUntil the term expires
Car titleUntil you sell the car
Home deed/titleKeep a copy until four years after the house is sold
PassportsUntil receipt of a renewed passport
Savings bondsUntil maturity
Birth certificates/adoption papersPermanently
Social Security cardsPermanently
Marriage licenses/Divorce decreesPermanently
Military service recordPermanently
Death certificatesPermanently
WillsPermanently/until updated
Health care proxyPermanently/until updated
Living willPermanently/until updated
Power of attorneyPermanently/until updated

 

IN A FIRE AND WATERPROOF CONTAINER (IDEALLY WITH A PASSWORD-PROTECTED ELECTRONIC FILE FOR BACKUP)

Water damage is a leading cause of document loss. For important papers stored at home, be sure to keep them up off the floor. And when it's time to destroy outdated documents, be sure to shred them.

Type of record How long to keep
Annually renewed insurance policies (Log in to see copies of your PEMCO contracts anytime.)Until renewal
Bank statementsOne year; seven years if needed to support tax filings
Pay stubsOne year; OK to shred after reconciled with W2 form
Check registersOne year; seven years if needed to support tax filings
Deposit slipsUntil you reconcile your statements
Certificates of depositFour years after account is closed

IRA/pension documents

Loan documents

Four years after account is closed

One year after the loan is paid off

Investment statementsUntil new one is received; keep annual statements until you sell the investments
Social Security statementsUntil a new one is received
ReceiptsWhen warranty expires; seven years if needed to support tax filings
Product warrantiesUntil expired
W2 formsPermanently as part of your employment records
Federal income tax formsSeven years
Home appraisalUntil home is sold
Home improvement papersUntil home is sold
Medical billsFour years for tax purposes
Vehicle maintenance recordsUntil you sell the car

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