Since you followed the instructions from my last post on organizing documents, you now you have several tidy stacks of papers. You may think that you are now organized, but this is really just the beginning. We need to make these stacks disappear.
First, take care of your tax returns and associated paperwork—get out a manila envelope and put each year’s tax returns & associated forms (W-2, 1099, etc.) in its own envelope and clearly label it with “tax returns” and the year. You’re going to need to keep those forever. Well, at least seven years, but the returns themselves really should be permanent.
I keep my financial records that go with the tax returns in manila envelopes as well and store those in plastic file boxes since I have to keep them seven years.
Once you’ve archived those papers, you need to move on to things that need to be filed but still accessible.
The first important category of papers is your vital records: birth, marriage, death certificates, citizenship documents, social security cards, wills, power of attorney, advance directives and divorce decrees fall into this category. These are called VITAL records for a reason. They are all important and must be stored safely. Ideally, a safe deposit box is the best place for these records; a fireproof safe would be the next best place. At the very least, give them their very own clearly labeled folder in your file cabinet so you can find them again.
Next would be vehicle titles and home ownership documents. These should be kept for as long as you own the vehicle or property. NEVER keep a vehicle title with the vehicle. We have a separate file folder for each vehicle and we keep the title, past registrations and all the maintenance records in the folder. Current registrations go in the car, of course. This makes it very easy when it’s time to sell your car. We do the same for our home ownership papers and keep the property tax records in the file. Home improvements and maintenance go in a separate folder as there are usually more of those.
For medical records, each family member (and the dog) has his or her own folder where we keep immunization records, prescription records and records from each doctor or dentist visit. It’s much simpler than trying to sort through everyone’s records to find something from one person.
Warranties and owner’s manuals, whether for vehicles, appliances, tools or other household goods should be filed and kept as long as you own the item. For these, I have file folders by type of warranty, one folder for kitchen, one for major appliances, one for tools, one for electronics, etc.
Once you no longer own the item, you no longer need to own the owner’s manual. So throw out the user guide for that TV you gave to Goodwill five years ago, ok?
Next week we’ll cover what to do with your current financial records–the ones that you need to keep track of month to month and week to week.
How do you manage your paper? What do you most need help with? Please share your questions, comments and feedback in the comment section below.
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