What to Shred?

What to shred?

To put it briefly, when deciding what to shred, you should consider destroying all sensitive information including junk mail and paperwork that includes:

  • Social Security numbers
  • Account numbers
  • Signatures
  • Passwords and PINs
  • Birthdates
  • Other personally identifiable information

To protect your privacy, you should also consider shredding items that include:

  • Phone numbers
  • Names
  • Addresses
  • E-mail addresses

Why Shred?

Why shred?

Believe it or not, “Dumpster diving,” or going through trash cans looking for personal information, is a common practice employed by identity thieves. You take a terrible risk when you don’t shred sensitive materials.  The majority of all identity theft is still initiated in the “paper stream”.

When you are deciding what to shred, you really should destroy all sensitive information including insurance forms, bank and credit card statements you no longer need, charge receipts that have any account information,  bills from utility companies, medical providers, or any other source when those bills have personal information on them.  It goes without saying that you should shred expired credit cards and any sort of  identification cards before discarding them.

How Long Should I Keep Sensitive Documents?

How long should I keep sensitive documents?

Sometime as you are going through your old documents deciding what to shred, you may ask yourself how long you need to keep them and which ones you should be shredding.  Although there are no hard and fast rules, the following are some brief guidelines that may help you to decide how long to store your records: (You can talk with your accountant or attorney if you have specific questions.)

Tax Records: To be safe, it is recommended that you keep your tax records seven years. The IRS can take up to three years to audit your return for mistakes, and up to six years if they suspect any fraud.

Pay Stubs: You only need to keep one year. When you receive your W-2, verify that the numbers match and then you may shred the pay stubs.

Medical Records: Here there is some degree of flexibility.  You will want to keep them for at least a year, but often there are reasons to hold on them them longer. For dispute purposes, you may want to keep medical bills for at least a year.  Additionally, many suggest keeping medical records for five years from the time of the diagnosis, treatment, or from when the symptoms ended. Medical histories should never be destroyed and you may wish to hold on to prescription information, contact information for your doctors, and health insurance information.

Bank Statements: Again, you only need to keep one year. You will need to keep any records relating your business expenses, taxes, mortgage payments, home improvement and other major purchases.

Credit Card Statements: Generally the same as your bank statements; keep those you might need for taxes or proof of purchase. Shred the rest after you have verified that your payment has been recorded.

Phone and utility bills: Unless you are using them for tax related purposes, you should shred them when you’ve paid them.

Insurance Records: A good rule of thumb is to keep policy information for five years after the term of the policy. Statements for car repairs, hospital bills, copies of prescriptions, etc. should be held up to five years from the date of the service.

IRA Contributions: You may shred monthly or quarterly statements once you have reconciled them with your yearly statement.  All contribution records should be kept as long as you have the IRA.

Home Purchase/Sale/Improvements: Keep these records for six years after you sell. Potential capital gains can be reduced by factoring in home improvements and expenses such as your real estate agent’s commission.

Warranties: Keep them as long as they are current. Shred expired warranties, especially if they contain personal information.

A Partial List of What to Shred

Here is a partial list of what to shred for your privacy and safety:

  • Address labels (junk mail and magazines)
  • Employee pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Birth certificate copies
  • Canceled and voided checks
  • ATM receipts
  • Credit and charge card bills, carbon copies, summaries and receipts
  • Credit reports and histories
  • Expired passports and visas
  • Employment records
  • Expired credit and identification cards including employee badges, college IDs, driver’s licenses, military IDs, medical insurance cards, etc.
  • Pre-approved credit card applications
  • Legal documents
  • Insurance documents
  • Investment, stock and property transactions
  • Luggage tags
  • Medical and dental records
  • Papers with a Social Security number
  • Tax forms
  • Receipts with checking account numbers
  • Report cards
  • Resumés or curriculum vitae
  • Utility bills (telephone, gas, electric, water, cable TV, Internet)
  • Signatures (leases, contracts, letters)
  • School or Training Transcripts
  • Travel itineraries
  • Old airline tickets

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