How Long Should You Keep Financial Records?

With tax season in the rearview mirror, this might be a good time to organize your records. Here are some guidelines to help decide what to keep and what to discard. Use a shredder when discarding paper records containing confidential information, and be sure that any electronic records are removed through a secure deletion process.



Tax records. Keep all personal tax records for three years after filing your return or two years after the taxes were paid, whichever is later. (Different rules apply to business taxes.) If you underreported gross income by more than 25% — not a wise decision — keep records for six years, and for seven years if you claimed a deduction for worthless securities or bad debt. It might be helpful to keep your actual tax returns, W-2 forms, and other income statements until you begin receiving Social Security benefits.

Financial statements. You generally have 60 days to dispute charges with banks and credit cards, so you could discard statements after two months. If you receive an annual statement, throw out monthly statements once you receive the annual statement. If your statements include tax information — for example, you use credit-card statements to track deductions — follow the guidelines for tax records.

Retirement plan statements. Keep quarterly statements until you receive your annual statement; keep annual statements until you close the account. Keep records of nondeductible IRA contributions indefinitely to prove you paid taxes on the funds.

Real estate and investment records. Keep at least until you sell the asset. If the sale is reported on your tax return, follow the rules for tax records. Utility bills can be discarded once the next bill is received showing the previous paid bill, unless you deduct utilities, such as for a home office.

Loan documents. Keep documents and proof of payment until the loan is paid off. After that, keep proof of final payment.

Insurance policies. Keep policy and payment documents as long as the policy is in force.

Auto records. Keep registration and title information until the car is sold. If you deduct auto expenses, keep mileage logs and receipts with your tax records. You might keep maintenance records for reference and to document services to a new buyer.

Medical records. Keep records indefinitely for surgeries, major illnesses, lab tests, and vaccinations. Keep payment records until you have proof of a zero balance. If you deduct medical expenses, keep receipts with your tax records.

Other documents you should keep indefinitely include birth, marriage, and death certificates; divorce decrees; citizenship and military discharge papers; and Social Security cards.

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