|To Shred or Not to Shred: An Editorial|
By David Hildebrandt
I spent the last week with my elderly mother, who lives alone after my father passed away over four years ago. I try to visit her in the Chicago area at least twice a year to help with the never ending list of maintenance items that one accumulates with owning a home. This visit was no exception!
Although we welcomed in the first day of Summer, we still needed to deal with the much needed yard "spring" cleaning: grass thatching, trees, bushes, and vine trimming, weed control, and attention to flower gardens and for those who have experienced this annual ritual and for those who have not, it was A LOT of work. I could show you the blisters, scratches and nicks as proof.
But for my mother, the hardest task she had to face was "decades" of saved records, files, paid bills, tax returns, medical receipts, etc. I was pre-warned of this job when she asked me to bring my paper shredder. UGGGGGH! For some reason people, myself included, have a difficult time in deciding what papers are important, what should be saved and for how long. We seem to morph into the proverbial "pack rat" don't we?
So here we are looking at the question, "To Shred or Not to Shred?"
Believe it or not, this is a Stewardship question. It isn't one of the obvious Seven T's of Stewardship (Time, Talent, Treasure, Testimony, Touch, Tissue, Trash) but it is part of how we "manage all of life" our Whole Life commitment found in the Stewardship definition; "The free and joyous activity of the child of God and God's family the church in managing all of life and life's resources for God's purposes."
When my mother looked at the pile we had created, she started to breath heavy as if to say, "This mountain is too high to climb." Of course, the simple answer is to start, as with any journey, with the first step and precede one step at a time---- or in this instance with one type of document at a time.
Do you need help addressing the "decades" of saved documents you have hidden in file cabinets and boxes in the basement, garage and attic?
Besides bringing my shredder, I brought an article that was published in the Business Section of the Star Ledger newspaper that I have been using for my records and which we found very helpful attacking the mountain. Maybe it will be of help to you also!
(The Star Ledger - Thursday, February 16. 2006 - By Teresa Dixon Murray - Newhouse News Service)
-----Type of Document-----
Copies of Tax Returns----Forever
Papers used to prepare tax returns (this includes cancelled checks, mortgage interest, investment information, etc.)-----7 years
IRA contribution records-----Forever
Retirement account statements (keep quarterly statements until you get your annual statement. Once you determine that's accurate, discard the quarterly statements. Keep annual statements until you retire or close the account)-----1 year to Forever
Investment transactions/statements (keep information used to prepare tax returns for seven years. Keep annual statements forever)-----7 years to Forever
Bank Records (Keep ATM and teller receipts until you get your monthly statement. Keep monthly statements as long as you think you might need to look up a past payment or transaction)-----1 month to several years
Cancelled Checks or Copies (Cancelled checks, or more likely the photocopies you get, don't need to be kept for too long after you have balanced your check book for the month. If it's a copy, you can get another from your bank if you need it. Exceptions are checks related to tax deductions, business expenses, mortgage records, etc., which should be kept as long as you keep your tax records, and anything you think might need for proof of payment)-----1 month to 7 years
Brokerage Statements (keep statements for as long as you hold on to the investments they list)-----7 years or more
Bills (Many bills can be discarded as soon as they are paid. Bills for large purchases, such as furniture, should be kept for insurance purposes. Bills for home improvements should be kept long-term to help calculate your cost basis for tax purposes)-----1 month to Forever
Store Receipts (Immediately discard receipts you won't possibly need for a return. Most stores have return policies of 60 to 90 days. For items under warranty, keep receipts for as long as the warranty lasts)-----60 days or longer
Credit Card Receipts/Sales Slips (Keep receipts until you get your account statement. Check for any discrepancies, then discard receipts you are sure you won't need for return or other purposes)-----45 days or longer
Credit Card Statements (Discrepancies can be disputed for 60 days. People who have same-as-cash financing or who don't pay their balance in full each month should keep statements a year or more)-----3 months
Pay Stubs (Keep them until you get your W-2, then discard after checking for accuracy)-----1 year
Home Records (Keep all records concerning the purchase and money spent on remodeling or improvements for at least as long as you own the home. Keep records of expenses involved with selling or buying a home for seven years after you sell your house)-----7 years to Forever
Utility Bills (Most utility bills, including electric, cable and phone, can be discarded as soon as you pay them. One reason for keeping them longer: if you plan to sell your home and want to show them to prospective buyers)-----1 month
Investment prospectuses/other mailings (you need them only as long as they have information you care about)-----Don't keep
Post Script---It took the better part of a day to sort my mother's records by type and another full day to shred. Happy Shredding!
Your brother in Christ,
David Hildebrandt serves as Consultant to the President, as well as the Stewardship Chairman for the New Jersey District.
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