How Can I Minimize All This Paper?
Evelyn Menendez has had it. ?I can’t take the clutter of paper at my home office,? the New Jersey woman complained. ?I?m also allergic to dust, and that paper collects a lot of that.?
She knows clearing out the paperwork would lighten her load, not to mention make it easier to breathe. But she doesn?t want to toss something she may eventually need. ?What can I throw away? What should I keep, and how long should I keep it?? she asked.
Try creating three categories: things you need now, things you may need later and things you can throw away.
Toss the obvious: expired warranties, instruction manuals for products you no longer own, copies of checks for cash or nondeductible expenses. You can also throw away weekly or biweekly pay stubs, once you have a W-2 form for the year they were issued.
In most cases, the IRS has three years to audit federal income tax returns. So keep income tax returns, and all the documentation you need to support your deductions, in an easily accessible place for at least three years from the date of filing.
Put unpaid bills, receipts for bills you paid, current bank statements, insurance benefit information, family health records and credit card information in your active file for easy access. You should also have easy access to identification for all family members, such as driver?s licenses, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates.
You can put many documents in short term storage?that is, someplace easy to access, just not at your fingertips. They include appliance manuals and warranties (with the sales receipt attached), copies of educational records, including transcripts, loan statements, safe deposit records, wills and medical directives, and titles to cars and other big ticket items.
If you?re short on space, consider scanning and storing your documents electronically. Store the originals for safe keeping. You can get more information about record-keeping from the Federal Citizens Information Center.