Jill On Money: Financial cleanup — What to keep and what to shred

Jill Schlesinger on

You have changed your clocks, filed your taxes and March Madness has begun, which means that spring is upon us. The season could prompt a cleanup of the house, preparing the garden, or putting away the heavy parkas.

For me, this time of year is an opportunity to clean out the physical and electronic financial clutter in life, and to attend to some important to-dos. I have written these columns over the years because these evergreen ideas never get old. Let’s start with what to keep (and for how long) — and what to shred.

We are in the middle of tax season, which means that you may have stumbled upon a box of returns from the 1990s. The good news is that you can shred anything from the Friends era.

However, the IRS can include returns filed within the last three years in an audit. If they identify a substantial error, they may add additional years, but the agency usually does not go back more than six years.

Therefore, keep your returns and all supporting documents for six years, just to be safe. If you work with a tax preparer, ask whether they will maintain electronic copies of all returns filed. Everything before that should be shredded— and no cheating on this because scammers would love your valuable personal confidential information.

You can usually access statements for the past year electronically, but it may be helpful to highlight any purchase and sales confirmations for tax purposes.


To keep things tidy, create either a physical or electronic folder called “tax prep,” so that you can easily access the information next year. NOTE: If you or a relative may be applying for Medicaid, many states require that you show five years’ worth of statements.

Unless you need to reference something for tax or business purposes, or for proof of purchase for a specific item, you can shred these after 45 days. Like the bank statements, flag what you may need for taxes, including charitable contributions.

That pile of documents that you signed when you purchased your home seems positively 1985, but some of them are important to retain for as long as you own the property. They include:

Property deed: Proves that you own your home and will be necessary if/when you sell your property.


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