With the 2012 tax season behind us and Spring attempting to actually “spring,” now is the perfect time to go through all of those documents you’ve been meaning to go through and pitch some of the clutter. You know, those piles that are on the kitchen table, under old newspapers, in the hall closet, the basement…wherever they might be lurking!
We want to help you get organized – not only for yourself and your financial advisors, but also for your heirs! Just plan to take an hour or two to get your documents in good order and you can cut out the scavenger hunt when it comes time for those scheduled meetings. Plus, wouldn’t your beneficiaries be relieved to know that they can easily get to your important documents when they have to?
Whether you choose storage boxes, stack-able units, a file cabinet or your computer (take caution with this, though, and consider keeping hard copies as a backup), here is what you should make sure goes inside:
When it comes down to it, the annual statements are really the only ones that matter. The quarterlies can be shredded unless you want to keep those for your purposes.
We recommend organizing your statements by type: IRA statements, 401(k) statements, mutual fund, etc. Other forms that it would be wise to hold on to include your Form 8606s, which report nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs, Form 1099-Rs, which report IRA income distributions, and Form 5498s, which contain the “Fair Market Value Information” statements that your IRA custodian sends you after tax day. Here’s another great article from Oregon about why you might want to keep these statements: http://blog.oregonlive.com/finance/2011/05/why_you_might_want_to_save_for.html.
In order to help you determine capital gains or losses, we also suggest you retain records of your original investment in a fund or a stock. Your annual statement will provide you with the dividend or capital gains distribution.
Although we recommend saving three years’ worth of bank statements, under some circumstances (lawsuit, divorce, past debts) it may be wise to keep more than three years of statements.
Although these aren’t necessary to keep, you may want to keep statements detailing tax-related purchases for up to seven years.
- Federal and State Tax Returns
Standard IRS audits look at the past three years of your federal tax records, so at minimum you should keep three years of your federal and state tax records. If you want to be really safe, hold on to the last seven years of records. When it comes to tax records regarding property or “real assets,” you should keep those around for as long as you own the asset and for at least seven years after you sell, exchange or liquidate it. irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-long-should-I-keep-records%3F
If you own your own business or are self-employed, you should retain your payroll statements for seven years or longer, just in case the IRS decides it’s time for an audit.
- Medical Records & Health insurance
Consensus says that you should keep these documents for five years after a surgery or the end of a treatment. You should keep them for seven years; however, if you think you can claim medical expenses on your federal tax return.
There’s really no need to keep these around for more than a month. Just check your last month’s statement against the current month and toss last month’s bill.
Due to the fact that these have expiration dates, you only need them until they expire. Perhaps give yourself a reminder when that is so you can toss it after the expiration date.
You should keep all of your policies on file (life, disability, health, home, auto) as well as your policy information on hand for the life of the policy plus three years.
- Mortgage documents/statements and HELOC statements
You should retain mortgage statements for the time you own the property plus seven years. When it comes to your mortgage documents you may wish to keep them three years longer then the mortgage statements (ten years after you owned the property); however, your county recorder’s office will likely have copies.
- Annual Social Security benefits statement
You only need to keep one of these on hand – your most recent one that shows your earnings record from the day you started working. However, as you may well know, workers under the age of 60 aren’t getting these in the mail anymore.
So, this is just another reminder that you will have to Get Your Social Security Statement Online. You should check your statement at least once per year and luckily, the Social Security Administration will send you an e-mail reminder once you sign up for an account. Should you find any errors, contact Social Security to have it corrected (and make sure to have your W-2 or tax return with you to assist in this). Here is some more information from the SSA on how to correct errors: www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10081.pdf.
- Employee benefits statement
Some companies issue these annually and others quarterly. You should keep the most recent year-end statement.
Although this may still seem like a lot of paper (unless you’re keeping up with this electronically), it’s a lot easier to deal with and sort through when it’s organized. We hope these guidelines help as you’re getting yourself and your papers in order.