Need Organizational Help. When Should I Shred Older Documents?

Updated on September 15, 2009
A.E. asks from Hammond, IN
12 answers

Hello ladies,

I know this is an inquiry non related to moms but I do need help and this has always been a fantastic source of information.

I have been going through my files. I've been shredding old files I feel are too old to bother keeping. I would like to know what is the general rule of thumb when it comes to getting rid of such documents as taxes, bills, mortgage, and medical. For example my mortgage has been sold so many times I have 5 different files for the same property. Can I get rid of the mortgage docs of the companies that no longer hold my loan? Also I have a property that I have paid off. Do I need to keep all the documents with that Company such as the correspondance, escrow analysis, and statements? Or can I throw all that away except the note, mortgage and deed that is stamped PAID!?

I have heard that I should keep documents of property owned for as long as I own it, but does that include documents from prior mortgage companies that no longer hold my loan. I believe the tax man can go as far back as 7 years. Is that true? How many years of Bills do you keep? Medical? Insurance?

If it were up to me I would shred everything! Unfortunately that is not a wise thing to do. Please help! I'm drowning in paper!

Thank you so much!


5 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?

I first want to Thank all who responded you all were very helpfull. I knew I could count on the Moms of Mammasource for help. You may be moms but you're a wealth of information too! Well I have finally finished all the shredding and have reduced my files dramatically. I even organized them annually, so when the end of a year comes, I can easily pull out the earliest year to shredd it! Thanks again.


More Answers



answers from Chicago on

I hope this helps,

Tax Returns. The general rule for tax records is to retain them for seven years. When you file the new return shred the newly expired one. The IRS has 3 years to audit you from the date you file your taxes and it is up to you to have all of the backup information that went into the preparation of your returns.

Bank Statements. The only reason to keep bank statements is if you are thinking about applying for a mortgage and that would be a three-month history. Otherwise, the bank has all of your records if a need arises.

ATM Receipts. Keep these until you balance your bank statement and then shred them.

Credit Card Statements. It is recommended that you keep three months on hand.

Medical Insurance. This includes your premium statements, doctor bills, prescriptions, hospital bills, etc. Keep these five years from the date of the service rendered.

Home Insurance. The minimum suggested is five years. However, if you think that you may have any issues in the future, save them ten years.

Pay Stubs. Many people save these but this is not a good idea, they contain everything an identity thief needs to open an account on one page. And since each paycheck contains the history for all the past stubs you only need to save the latest pay stub. The exception is if you are planning to get a new mortgage, which usually requires a few months of pay stubs.

Investment Documents. If you have an IRA, 401K or any other investments you are inundated with prospectus, privacy notices, address confirmations, and on and on. Don’t keep any of these unless you plan to act on them. Public companies also ask you to vote for the board of directors and special measures once a year. Unless you own a significant amount of stock or have a strong opinion, you may wish to save the company postage and just shred the vote card. You should retain three months of balance statement and anytime you purchase new investments you should retain that until you sell the investment and complete your taxes for the year.

Home Repairs. These should be kept for ten years in case you need to prove something with regard to guarantees of workmanship. If you are doing home renovations, make sure you get the satisfaction of lien from the contractors doing the work. Keep that documents as long as you own the property.

Utility Bills. If you are writing off your utility bills for tax purposes, you may need to keep them as tax records. However, if you can't write them off, you need only keep the last three months.

Mortgage Documents. Keep the loan information for the duration that the mortgage is open. After you've paid off the mortgage the bank is obligated to record a satisfaction of mortgage. You should keep this document as long as you own the home. Warranty Documents: Anytime you get rid of an appliance, software, or anything else that had warranty documentation, you can shred the warranties at the same time.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Hi A.,

Income tax documents (the IRS form and any supporting documents) should be kept for 7 years. Regulations say that as long as a return was filed, the IRS can only audit up to 7 years after. So, if you filed a tax return every year, you can shred anything prior to 2002.

For the paid off property, I think you are okay of getting rid of everything but the basics. I would probably keep the original sale documents and then the documents saying it's paid off.

For the current mortgage, you should keep your original sale documents, then probably just one statement per year showing things were current for that year (maybe the December statement). You should be able to combine all of the documents from the various lenders into one file and just keep any literature from the most current lender.

Medical information (test results, etc) should be kept forever. Medical bills can be shredded once the account is satisfied and your income taxes have been filed (assuming you don't need the bills for a tax deduction).

Insurance bills for homeowners and auto insurance, you only need to keep the most current year to prove you are current.

You only need to keep one year's worth of utility bills. Credit card statements only need to be kept for 1 to 3 months.

Hope that helps.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Keep tax related info for 7 years. As far as the old mortgages, I would keep the payoff letters only. You should keep all home improvement receipts & any other big ticket items in case of an insurance claim.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I do think the 7 year rule is real, so just to be safe, I would stick to that. Do you have a printer that is also a scanner? I know it would be a big project, but maybe scan some documents onto a disk and then shred them to help eliminate your paper but still retain the documents. Just a thought.

Best of luck! I am with you - I HATE clutter...the worst! We keep all of our old files in bankers boxes in the garage so they are out of the way and out of the house. If you have that kind of space, maybe give that a try too : )

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Two points that no one else covered. I am the executor of my mother's estate, my lawyer said to keep things for 3 years (old POA's, trust papers and the like), she also wants statements going back to 2006 from my mother's inuities, bank accounts, and such. I have kept all that, luckily. Also, when the conpany of one of our stock's went into bankrupcy, I had to prove that we owned thier stock between the years of 2004-2008 to be able to get in on a class action suit. Good thing I had those statements also. Not that I want to confuse you into thinking you need to keep everything, but I did and it paid off.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

One more thing to add regarding tax documents (IRS related), you should hold onto tax returns forever. This is because if you are audited and they find fraud (not saying this will happen, of course), but the IRS can technically open up your returns and go back as far back as the beginning of time. So, the 7 year rule is somewhat accurate.

Regarding the housing documents, you should keep anything that is related to the house (to show proof of the cost of the house). As an FYI, you should also keep any documents that are for capital improvements to the house (i.e anything that is done to the house that is permanent). This increases the basis in the cost of your home (and could therefore decrease any gain when the home is sold).

I agree with others who have posted regarding every day utility bills, etc.




answers from Chicago on

I have the same problem. We have way too much paper in our house. I don't have any answers as far as how long you should keep documents, but I was wondering if you had thought about scanning the important documents so that you wouldn't have to worry about throwing anything important away and you could still eliminate the paper. That's what I was thinking about doing. One day. :0)



answers from Chicago on

I too am drowning in paper. I just recently shredded checks over fifteen years old from my first marriage. I have been identity thieved, checked backwards and forwards by everyone and everything and became really paranoid. It is so hard to know. My feelings are that you really should keep every document about the mortgage saying paid. And perhaps whatever confirmation or notes that were returned. I decided unbeknownst to me if it's a good idea or not to keep a few paid off credit card bills, so that it can be seen if ever needed that I was who I said who I was. Nowadays so much is on the computer, you might be able to look things up but I don't still trust it. For instance, my retirement will say I worked since such and such but the district moved and they have a different opinion. I have a couple of papers proving I was paid in certain years. It's pretty much like that. I will look forward to hearing what the other mothers say. I do know someone said keep all insurance papers (but how far back?) and checks up to seven years. Yikes. So many papers!



answers from Chicago on


I would only hold on to the info as it relates to the current mortgage and the holder of this mortgage. As for the paid property, make sure you get a RELEASE OF MORTGAGE from the final mortgage company.

Investments such as retirement accounts: For example: we are keeping our monthly 2009 statements. At the year end, we will shred Jan-Nov 2009 keeping only December 2009 which will show your end of year numbers.

Best of luck!



answers from Chicago on

A., i struggle with this too. I heard to keep tax docs for 7 years but perhaps a call to your accountant or IRS could provide a more reliable answer. I used ot keep med bills but became too much. So, now I shred after 2-3 years and keep anything of more importance (ongoing condition,etc). Also, copies of med documents and insurance EOB's can be gotten by calling the the hospital, dr, managed care, etc.

Good Luck!




answers from Chicago on

You have received some good input here, I just wanted to add that you can pay your bills online and you won't be receiving paper statements anymore. We pay through CheckFree. The statement shows up on our Check Free account, we have a bank account linked to it and it's all done online, no paperwork involved. We pay our mortgage, all utility bills, credit cards etc through there.
We also do all our banking online, again, no paperwork is involved.
Good luck


answers from Champaign on

I keep all of of my tax stuff in manilla folders by year for 10 years. Bills I keep 12 months worth for dispute purposes but after a recent dispute w/ Ameren, I will be keeping their statements for 24 months.

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