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 ever needed any of them, there have been times when I was glad I did. It 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 buy a new one, 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 to 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.
We have had this happen in other situations 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 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
We use this method we use to keep all of our 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 track down 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 easily find a file cabinet or drawer in which to store them. It is still best to keep them organized by category so you can see what you need when you need it.
I tried this method, and it didn’t work for me (you can read about that here). It 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 papers by category so that you can find them when you need to.
You can scan in items via a Neat Scanner or the scanner on your printer. 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 TO KEEP DOCUMENTS
It is one thing to know how to store your important papers and documents. But, how long do you need to hang onto them?
1. Tax Returns
Hang onto your tax returns for seven years. This includes all receipts and additional documentation. When you get the newest return, find the oldest and toss it. That way, you always have just seven (7) years’ worth of tax returns.
For example, when you file your 2017 return, track down and returns from 2010 (and before). Shred these returns (do not just toss them into the trash or recycling). You can find a shredder for around $30 on Amazon.
If you have a unique situation such as a business or complicated return, you may need to retain these for a longer period. You may want to consult with your CPA.
2. Owners Manuals
There is not any need to keep these anymore since most of them are available online. I will admit that I still have some filed, and like to pull it out and read it when needed. But again, you can toss these.
You should always keep these along WITH your receipt (stapled together). By doing this, you will quickly find the details about your warranty as well as have the documentation you need.
Most store receipts are valid for returns for up to 90 days. For big-ticket items, it is good always to keep these and attach them (as mentioned in #3 above) or saved in a folder.
5. Bank Statements
There is no need to save 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 your payment was applied. These should always be shredded or destroyed. We 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. Place your Receipts, purchases, etc. in a single folder all year long. At tax time, everything you need is in one place. No digging or research is 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.
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.