The “How Long Do I Need to Keep This Paper Work?” Checklist

Papers – we’re all covered in them! Bills, notices, school papers and so on.  If you’ve ever wondered just how long you should keep them all, you are not alone.

Here’s an outline of how long you should keep some of the more important papers that fly across your desk!

Keep for One Month

  • ATM and bank deposit/withdrawal slips – keep in a file folder until monthly statement received
    reconcile with your statement to ensure that charges and payments have been properly processed

    • if for major purchase with warranty, staple receipt to the owner’s manual and file for the term of the warranty
    • if for major purchase without warranty, keep receipt if item replacement cost is higher than the deductible on your homeowner’s insurance policy
    • if for minor purchase without warranty, shred
  • Cash purchase receipts – enter into your chequebook or computer software to ensure that you are accounting for all your purchases
    • if for major purchase with warranty, staple to the owner’s manual and file for the term of the warranty
    • if for major purchase without warranty, keep receipt if item replacement cost is higher than the deductible on your homeowner’s insurance policy
    • if for minor purchase without warranty, shred
  • Credit card receipts – keep in file until monthly statement received to reconcile with your statement to ensure charges and payments have been properly processed
    • if for major purchase with warranty, staple to the owner’s manual and file for the term of the warranty
    • if for major purchase without warranty, keep receipt if item replacement cost is higher than the deductible on  your homeowner’s insurance policy
    • if for minor purchase without warranty, shred

Keep for One Calendar Year

  • Bank/Financial Institution monthly statements (unless needed for home business)
  • Brokerage/Mutual Fund Statements (Monthly/Quarterly) – reconcile with your annual statement
  • Credit card monthly statements
  • Credit reports – you should request your credit report annually to ensure that all information is accurate and up-to-date, especially with regard to accounts you have closed in the course of the year
    requesting this file annually helps to detect any suspicious activity that may be an indicator of identity theft, so you can see who has requested the report and for what purpose
  • Monthly Mortgage Statements – reconcile with your annual statement
  • Pay stubs – shred after reconciling with your W-2 or 1099 (US) or T4 (Canada)
  • Telephone/Utility bills

Keep for 7-10 Years

  • Any T4 Forms – including T4E, etc. (Canada)
  • Annual Mortgage Statements
  • Supporting documentation (cancelled cheques/receipts/statements) for tax returns including but not limited to:
    • donations
    • retirement account contributions
    • child care receipts
    • alimony/child support paid or received
    • medical expenses
    • mortgage interest
    • property tax payments
  • W-2 or 1099 Forms (US)
  • Year End statements from credit cards (if provided)
  • Year End statements from utility companies (if provided)

Keep Indefinitely

  • Adoption Records
  • Auto/Home/Life Insurance policy information – keep purchase records for as long as policy is in force
  • Automobile Records (ownership certificate/registration/records of repairs or maintenance done) – keep for as long as you own your vehicle
    • if annual registration required, keep only current registration paper
  • Birth Certificates
  • Business Income Tax returns, and supporting documentation, if self-employed
  • Death Certificate
  • Divorce Agreement/Child Custody Court Orders
  • Investment records clearly showing beneficiary information
    • purchase records
    • sales records
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Medical records – including immunization records of children
  • Military service records
  • Pension Plan records
  • Receipts for major home improvements/renovations
  • Receipts for major purchases that have long life expectancy (refrigerator, stove, freezer, vehicles)
  • Religious records
  • School/Education records
  • Tax Returns
    • In the US, the IRS has 3 years from the date you file your tax return to examine your return for errors and up to 6 years to audit your return if they suspect that you have under-reported your gross income by 25% or more.  There is no statute of limitations on an audit when deliberate fraud is suspected.
    • In Canada, CRA advises you to keep your tax returns, Notices of Assessment, and all supporting documentation for 6 years from the date of filing your personal income tax return.
    • I recommend keeping these indefinitely because they take up little space and can often be a valuable resource if there is any dispute over such things as income tax paid, child support/alimony paid or received and pension plan benefits.
  • Will and/or Power of Attorney – should be kept securely in a fire-proof home safe or safety deposit box at your financial institution
  • Year End Investment account statements

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