I’m a very organized person. That is true with everything – even papers. That includes manuals, receipts and warranties. I was just always afraid to throw those items away. While I’ve not really ever needed any of them, there have been times when I was glad I did. It actually saved us money!
A while back, I noticed our faucet was leaking. My husband I couldn’t believe it as it was less than a year old! Rather than run out and replace, we did some research to see if we could replace the broken part instead. I was able to find it for $50 (much less than the cost to replace). However, just as I was ready to click the button to buy, I noticed that there was a link about warranty information.
I clicked over and read and sure enough — our faucet was in fact under warranty! The kicker was the receipt. We had to be able to show proof of the date of purchase. I went looking and ended up finding just that! We were able to call and order the replacement part at absolutely no cost to us.
This happened to us previously as well. We had a freezer stop working. The compressor went out. The same thing happened with this – it was still under warranty. I had the receipt and paperwork available to prove this to the company and they replaced our $400 freezer — for free!
It was in these moments that I was glad I had become so diligent with saving and properly filing our paperwork. Doing so can also potentially save you money. If you are not sure how or what to save, here are some ideas:
HOW TO ORGANIZE IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
1. File Box
This is the method we use to keep all of our important documents (you can find the style of box HERE).I have several of these boxes and within them, hanging file folders. These are labeled so I can find what I need. The categories depend upon what you need. Here those we use:
2. File Drawer
If you do not have very many of these, you could easy find a file cabinet or drawer in which to store them. It is still best to keep them organized by category so you can find what you need when you need it.
I actually tried this method and it didn’t work for me (you can read about that here). This does work for many and might be the best option for you. If you do decide to go with this method, I would recommend that you purchase higher quality STURDY plastic sleeves for your items (I think that is where I went wrong). You should still divide the items by category so that you can find the items when you need them.
You can scan in items via a Neat Scanner or regular scanner. Then, create a file folder on your computer for these items and organize them accordingly. For example, create a folder called “Home Items”. Under that heading, make additional folders called Electronics, Appliances, etc.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU KEEP YOUR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS?
Now that you know HOW to store them, what should you keep and how long?
1. Tax Returns
Keep these for seven years (along with any documentation). In order to ensure you don’t end up with too many, it is a good idea to take out the oldest return each year you file away the most recent one. For example, when you put away your 2013 return, you can take out the one for 2007 (and any prior to that time). Make sure you do NOT just throw it away. Make sure you shred all items! You can find a shredder for around $30 on Amazon.
(Note: If you have a unique situation such as a business or complex return, you may need to retain these for a longer period of time. You may want to consult with your CPA).
2. Owners Manuals
There is not really any need to keep these anymore since most of them are available online. I will admit that I still do as I still am old school when I need one and like to pull it out and read it. But again, you can toss these.
You should always keep these along WITH your receipt (stapled together). By doing this, you will easily find the details about your warranty as well as have the documentation you need should it ever be needed.
Most store receipts are valid for returns for up to 90 days. For big ticket items, it is good to always keep these and attach them (as mentioned in #3 above) or keep in a folder.
5. Bank Statements
There is no need to ever keep your bank statements as long as you have access to them online. If your bank does not have this feature, it is only necessary to keep them for one month. As you reconcile your account, toss out (actually shred) the prior month’s statement.
6. Bills / Credit Card Statements
If you use these to keep track of payments, you should keep them only until the next month’s bill arrives and you confirm the correct payment amount was applied to your account. These should always be shredded or destroyed. We actually do not keep any of these and shred all of them. However, we do scan in those needed for tax purposes so we have them as documentation.
7. Tax Items
As you go through the year, there are things you know you will need for your taxes. Rather than put them where you have to go digging at the end of the year, you could instead put them all into one folder. This is what we do. Receipts, purchases, etc, all get put into one folder. Then, come tax time, we have everything we need in one folder — no digging or researching necessary!
8. Medical receipts/insurance paperwork
These items should be saved through the end of each calendar year, in case you need to check payments to show deductibles, additional claims, etc.. If you include anything from the paperwork on your taxes, save those items with that year’s taxes. If any items are associated with Worker’s Comp, you should contact your attorney or CPA about the length of time to keep those records.
9. Pay Stubs
Keep one year’s worth of stubs. If you need to show proof of income, most companies will not require anything further back than this period of time.
In order to ensure you purge items you no longer need (warranties that have lapsed, etc), make sure you go through your files at least once per year. The easiest time to do this is when you are filing away your most recent taxes. You are already looking at your files to do this, so just take a little more time and clear out those old items you no longer need.
What method do you use? I love new ideas on how to get organized!!