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File vs. Shred: How Long Do You Need to Keep Important Documents?

Jacob Jaegle, CFP®
October 3, 2019

As you’re starting your fall clean up, you might be having flashbacks from last tax season about digging through receipts and documents trying to find information in order to file. If you’re thinking about cleaning up your files and records to make next year’s filing process a little less painful, we have some tips on what you need to keep and for how long.


As you get started, make arrangements to store everything you need to keep in a secure location – ideally a bank lock box or you may upload sensitive documents to the RJ Vault through Client Access. When you decide what you can part with, be sure to shred those items for security reasons. Keep in mind we would be happy to safely shred your unwanted documents free of charge.

Document Retention

Keep for 1 year:

  • Paycheck stubs (you can dispose of once you have compared them to your W2 and annual Social Security statement)
  • Utility bills (you can toss after 1 year, unless you're using for a deduction such as a home office – then you need to keep for 3 years after you've filed that tax return)
  • Cancelled checks (unless needed for tax purposes and then you need to keep for 3 years)
  • Credit and debit card receipts (unless needed for tax purposes and then you need to keep for 3 years)
  • Bank statements (unless needed for tax purposes and then you need to keep for 3 years)
  • Quarterly investment statements (hold on to until you get your annual statement)

Keep for 3 years:

  • Medical bills and cancelled insurance policies
  • Records of selling a house (documentation for capital gains tax)
  • Records of selling a stock (documentation for capital gains tax)
  • Receipts, cancelled checks and other documents that support income or a deduction on your tax return (keep 3 years from the date the return was filed or 2 years from the date the tax was paid -- whichever is later)
  • Annual investment statement (keep for 3 years after you sell your investment)

Keep income tax returns:

  • You can be audited by the IRS for no reason up to 3 years after you file a tax return. If you omit 25% of your gross income the audit period is 6 years. If you don't file a tax return at all, there is no statute of limitations.

Keep while active:

  • Contracts
  • Insurance documents
  • Stock certificates
  • Property records
  • Stock records
  • Records of pensions and retirement plans
  • Property tax records disputed bills (keep the bill until the dispute is resolved)
  • Home improvement records (keep for at least 3 years after the due date for the tax return that includes the income or loss on the asset when it's sold)

Keep Forever:

  • Marriage licenses
  • Birth certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Wills
  • Death certificates
  • Adoption papers
  • Records of paid mortgages
  • IRS notices
  • Legal records
  • Product warranties

Again, permanent documents such as these can be uploaded to the RJ Vault to protect them from being lost and they are easily accessible at any time.

Once you get a system in place to purge unnecessary documents each year, finding what you need when you need it won’t be such a chore, whether it’s for tax season or preparing for a meeting with your financial advisor. If you’re ever uncertain about document retention rules, drop us a line. We’re happy to advise.

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The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation.This information does not purport to be a complete description of the developments referred to in this material. Links are being provided for informational purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

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