No one likes a hoarder. Trying to keep up with piles and piles of old mail and paperwork can quickly overwhelm every nook and cranny in your home.
But this doesn’t mean you need to throw away everything you receive in the mail. Not all paperwork is easy to replace making it necessary to keep your own copy on hand.
Here is a list of important documents you should always have at the ready.
List of Important Documents You Need on Hand
Important documents are usually needed at big life moments like when you adopt a child or buy a new house. You won’t reference them every day so there’s no need to clutter tabletops and surfaces with them scattered about.
In fact, this list of important documents includes many original copies of state-issued documents that you can’t get without paying for a replacement. Take a look at this list of important documents you need to separate from the rest of your files.
- social security cards
- birth certificates
- adoption papers
- marriage licenses
- tax returns
- W-2s and 1099 forms
- IRS notices
- vehicle registration
- car titles
- mortgage statements
- mortgage deed and bill of sale
- insurance policies (auto, home, etc)
- medical records
- finance records
Many of these documents seem redundant to keep at home because you’ll have copies available online. But it’s extremely important to have a master copy of each of these documents just in case.
For example, you might be in the middle of an important transaction and your internet goes down. You won’t want to risk relying on technology to store important documents that you only have access to in the cloud.
External hard drives are another safe place to keep backups but they aren’t foolproof. If your hard drive fails, you don’t want to have to go down to the DMV and go through the hassle of getting a new car title if you don’t have to.
So, how long should you keep these important documents? The answer is it depends.
There are certain documents that have a longer shelf life than others. Obviously, legal identification is something you want to keep for a lifetime or until it expires.
Marriage certificates should be kept in a safe especially if you were married out of state or out of the country where getting a new copyright away isn’t feasible.
How Long Should I Keep Financial Records?
Getting bank statements in the mail can be annoying. They always have one or two extra pages at the end that makes the document just long enough to be too long.
But bank statements are even more of a chore when you’re asked to produce a year’s worth as proof of income. This means you’ll need to print hundreds of pages of information when you could’ve simply kept the copies you received in the mail.
Always keep your bank statements for one year. The same applies to pay stubs.
Pay stubs are one of the easiest ways to prove your income when applying for a loan or line of credit. Use a fireproof safe to store you financial documents or Japanese file folders.
Keep quarterly investment or retirement statements for up to one year. You might also opt to simply keep the year-end statement so you know how your account performs year after year.
If you’ve filed unemployment recently, you want all documentation related to your approval period and each pay stub you receive. If there’s ever a discrepancy in your eligibility, you’ll have supporting documentation on hand.
How Long Should I Keep Medical Records?
Keep your medical records for at least a year. It’s possible your bills might come back to haunt you later on and if you have no proof of payment, you could end up paying twice.
This is especially true when you’ve got multiple invoices coming from within the same department. It’s not uncommon for a physician, lab, and hospital admin to all bill you separately for the same visit.
You also want these bills in case there’s an issue with your insurance. Occasionally, services get coded wrong resulting in rejection by your insurance company.
In this case, you’re asked to foot the bill for the entire visit. You can appeal the charges with your insurance provider and the healthcare provider.
Keep your documents as long as needed to handle the dispute properly.
Do I Need to Hang On to Utility Bills?
Utility bills are important for proving residence in your city or county. When you’re signing up for things like a library card, registering for an event at the local community center, or getting an updated license, you’ll need copies of your utilities.
You can keep one or two on hand for these purposes. Every few years when one of these documents expires, make sure you have a fresh utility bill you can use to prove residency.
But most of your utility bills won’t prove useful when making major life changes.
How to Organize Important Documents
Your list of important documents won’t likely be static over time. As your family grows, you might need duplicate copies of things like your child’s birth certificate so you’re not using originals for school registration.
The key is having a safe place to store documents that can withstand the test of fire, water and theft. Avoid putting away documents in such a secure location that you later have no idea where you put them.
Filing folders are helpful for documents you need to access quickly such as during a dispute. For more information and tips visit our blog for updates.