Open Your Mail Right Away
It can be tempting to leave the mail until later, but then it just tends to pile up. Open your mail right away.
Recycle or Trash What Isn't Needed
Right after you open your mail, immediately recycle, trash, or shred what you don't need. Make the decision while it's in your hands!
File What Is Needed
If you don't already have one, make a file system for incoming mail. You can use folders, a hanging file basket, a mail sorter, a paper divider, etc.
Some good categories for immediate need are: To Pay, To Act On, To File, Coupons.
Go Through These Piles Weekly
Make a point to check through these files weekly so you don't forget to take action on them. Pick a day of the week that makes sense and make it happen, for example Sunday nights.
After the Action is Taken, File or Discard
Once you've paid the bill, or signed the form, or made the phone call, decide on a permanent or long-term home for the paperwork. Do not put it back in the same file. If it's something you need to save, file it elsewhere in a file box or file cabinet. If not, shred or recycle it.
What Do You Need To Keep?
Almost everything can be viewed online now, so you don't need to keep a lot of paperwork. If you can't access it online, you should keep a paper copy, or if you are tech savvy, you can scan documents to save digitally.
How Long Should You Keep Paperwork?
Different types of paperwork need to be kept for different amounts of time. Here are some general guidelines.
Utility Bills: 1 month, if necessary. Keep with tax records if you are using them as a small business deduction. Checks you've electronically deposited: until you verify them on your bank statement
Pay stubs: 1 year Receipts for large purchases: 1 year or until warranty ends
Medical Bills: 1 year (in case you need to dispute a bill or payment)
Bank and Credit Card Statements: 1 year if you don't have digital access
Tax returns and supporting documents (w2s, 1099s, etc): 7 years
Titles/Vehicle Records: Until you sell the vehicle
Loan Documents: Until the loan is paid off
Home Improvement Documents: Until you sell and then keep with tax records if needed
Lease Documents: Until you move out and get your deposit back
Health Insurance Documents: As long as the policy is active
Investment Records: 7 years after you've sold or closed the account
Social Security Cards
Powers of Attorney
Military Discharge Paperwork
Life Insurance Policies
House Deeds & Mortgage Documents
Diplomas or Transcripts that may be required for a job
Go Through Your Files Annually
Make sure you go through your file cabinet at least annually. You can even schedule it in your calendar. If you have collected too many utility bills, keep what's needed and shred the rest. If you find you need to add a new file folder, do so and label it. Don't just stuff the papers in the wrong folder.
Shred Anything With Personal Info
Once you have your discarded files, make sure you dispose of them properly. Anything with your personal information should be shredded. Check with your local town or city for their annual shred day. You can also take them to several businesses (office supply stores, UPS, and Fedex stores, to name a few) and pay by weight to have them shredded.
Make This a Habit
Get yourself into a routine of handling your paperwork so that it doesn't become overwhelming.
If it feels overwhelming to open your mail every day, set a timer to see how long it actually takes you. You might be surprised at how little time a dreaded task actually takes.
The last thing you want to be doing is moving boxes of old paperwork that you don't actually need. Make the time to get a system started and you will not regret it!