Keep? Shred?

With all the time we have on our hands these days, many of us are looking around our spaces and plan on cleaning out closets, basements and garages.  But, there's a fine line between holding on to important financial and medical records and hoarding. And, Identity Theft is on the rise. What to keep and what to destroy is very important in the scheme of things and somewhat personal. The FTC estimates that 10 million Americans are the victim of identity theft each year. Do what you can to avoid that statistic, while decluttering by guarding your sensitive personal information.

Here's what the U.S. government says you should keep forever (or until the information is outdated). Store them in a fire-safe box or a safe deposit box at a local bank:
  • original birth or marriage certificate
  • college transcripts and diplomas
  • divorce decrees
  • passports
  • mortgage documents and real estate deeds
  • vehicle titles
  • education or military records
  • social security cards
  • life insurance policies
  • wills and trusts
  • powers of attorney
  • warranties

In general, you should shred all mail & paperwork that includes account numbers, birth dates, passwords, pin numbers, signatures or social security numbers. But don't go too crazy with the shredder. There are some things you need to hold onto according to my research:
  • If you do not intend to run for President, keep your tax returns and supporting documents for at least five (5) years after the date filed. If  you have earnings such as stock and bond purchases/sales, keep those too. Most bank records should be kept for at least five (5) years just in case you need to apply for loans. But, you should not keep old canceled checks because the bank/credit union always has copies.
  • If you own a home, you should keep renovation and repair receipts for seven (7) years after selling to help reduce any taxes you may owe when you decide to sell. Monthly Cable Bills, Utility bills, phone bills and credit card bills should be thrown out after one (1) year. Home insurance polices seem to get stored in a cabinet and should be shredded after two (2) years. Renewals are annual, and as you all know costs to get insurance varies. But be cautious because you never know when repairs covered under last year's policy, will show its ugly head.
  • With medical records, Err on the side of caution. Better to have them and not need them. Some practitioners suggest you keep all Lab & Xray test results indefinitely. Normal or Not the information can be useful in the future for your medical care.  I would not get rid of any surgical or hospital reports, discharge summaries or treatment plans for minor/major illnesses. Immunization and vaccination records are super important to keep for children and is necessary for school records.  Also, adults who like to travel should have them handy.
Of course, with all this mail and paperwork comes the problem of clutter. Take advantage of technology, like electronic billing and banking or scanning documents into your computer before shredding them, to keep your information secure and reduce piles around the house. I have had several shredders and none of them lasted a year. Those that claim they can shred multiple documents at a time, is false. If you choose to buy one do not overload it.

But, you do not have to spend money to destroy paperwork, a good shredder can cost $40 or more. Just use some supplies you have in your house - Fill a plastic bucket or garbage bag with water, soap, salt, ice and/or bleach then add the paperwork. [I just use water & bleach]. Shake around for about 15 minutes or until all the paper is submerged & let it sit overnight. Next day take outside, drain bucket or punch holes in bag to release the liquid and dispose.

In the end, all you want the dumpster divers to find are tiny shredded pieces of your life. Not the whole enchilada!

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