Tax season stirs up paperwork you haven’t seen in years – and you might have even forgotten you had! It also offers a unique opportunity to evaluate your filing systems, determine what’s working, and apply additional paper filing tips to ensure that all of your important documents are organized and easy to find. It’s also a great time to recycle any unnecessary papers to make room in your filing cabinet for more important documents. As you wrap up your taxes, take some time to not only return tax related files to their homes, but also to perform an audit of your files as a whole, following this guide from our NYC Professional Organizer.
Evaluate Your File Storage Location
Before you sift through your files, ensure that your current storage area is sufficient in meeting your filing needs. Are your documents easy to access, but also protected from moisture? Airtight plastic storage bins are a great solution as they can be slid under desks or into closets. Is there enough room for all of the paperwork you need to store? Off-site storage facilities are a great solution if space is tight. Some will even come to your door to pick up your files for storage!
Determine What to Keep
Once you’ve optimized your storage location you can begin weeding through your files and setting aside paperwork that you must maintain. Below is a list of must-keep files from our NYC Professional Organizer, however, keep in mind that these are general paper filing tips and you should consult your accountant or attorney if you are unsure about additional documents and/or the length of time they must be stored.
- Tax returns – These must be kept forever
- Tax return documentation – Maintain these documents for 7 years after filing
- Contracts – Keep indefinitely
- Real estate records – Keep indefinitely
- Last pay stub of jobs you have left
- Last pay stub from your current job for the current year until it is reconciled with your W-2
- All mortgage payment checks and statements – Keep these until you have paid off your mortgage
- Any student loan payments – Keep these on record until the loan is paid off
- Car loan payment stubs – Keep these on record until the car is paid off
- Cancelled checks – Keep those related to your taxes, business expenses, home improvements and mortgage payments; shred those that have no long-term importance
- Bank deposit slips – These should be kept until they are reconciled with your bank statements
- Bank statements – Maintain statements for a calendar year; be sure to store these with you tax returns if you intend to use them to justify deductions
- Records of Home Improvement – Maintain for the ownership period, plus 7 years
- Investment records – Monthly and quarterly statements can be shredded as they arrive. However, annual statements should be kept on file until you sell your investments.
- Bills for purchases – Keep bills until you receive confirmation that the bill has been paid, when they can be shredded; however, bills for expensive purchases (jewelry, rugs, appliances, antiques, cars, collectibles, furniture, computers, etc.) should be stored in an insurance file in order to provide proof of their value should they ever be lost or damaged.
Recycle Unnecessary Files
As you sort through your files, you’re sure to find at least a few documents that you DON’T need to keep. Below are the items our NYC Professional Organizer assures it’s okay to toss in the recycling bin (after shredding of course).
- Credit card statements from three or more years ago
- Past insurance statements
- Past utility bills, aside from the most recent bill from your old address if you’ve moved
- Recently paid bills (statements). These can be tossed after you receive confirmation that they’ve been paid.