To Shred Or Not To Shred, That Is The Question

Gone are the days when most of us didn’t give a second thought to tossing documents with our personal information on it in the garbage. For some, secure document disposal meant tearing the document in half (or several times more) before we threw it out. Little did we know that our personal information was still ripe for the picking (and putting back together).

Should It Stay Or Should It Go

We all experience a variety of events in our lifetime and have the papers to show for it. With identity theft on the rise, it’s more important than ever that we safeguard and/or securely dispose our personal documents. While we don’t have to keep every single piece of paper that passes our way, there are a few exceptions. For example, once you have filed this year’s income tax return, you can keep digital copies (for seven years) and shred the printed ones.

Check out the guidelines below if you’re wondering how long you need to keep your important documents or if it’s time to let them go:

Documents you need to keep physical copies of forever:

  • Birth and death certificates
  • Marriage licence
  • Divorce certificate
  • Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
  • Social security cards
  • Pension plan documents
  • ID cards and passports
  • Business licence
  • Any insurance policy, and claims such as home, auto and life (good to keep even if the insurance company has a digital copy in case problems come up)
  • Vehicle loan documents
  • Mortgage documents
  • Appraisals and receipts for valuables like art or jewelry
  • Securities and trade confirmations,  repaid loan or mortgage documents
  • Military service records, educational diplomas, degrees and transcripts
  • Documents related to a legal conflict or claim like a vehicle collision, since legal action can be taken up to 10 years after the incident

Documents you can shred after seven years:

  • Year-end bank statements that aren’t needed for tax purposes
  • Titles, contracts, and deeds for sold properties, including any legal documents connected to the sale
  • Income tax returns and related financial documentation

Documents you can keep digital copies of and throw away the printed:

  • Pay stubs and bank statements (keep for one year)
  • Credit Card bills (unless you need something on your credit card statement for tax or business purposes or for proof of purchase, you can shred after 45 days)
  • Home purchase, sale, or improvement documents (keep for at least six years after you sell)
  • Medical records and bills (keep at least one year after payment in case of disputes)
  • Brokerage and mutual fund account monthly statements/periodic trade confirmations (taxable accounts): Retain confirmations until the transaction is detailed in your monthly report. For tax purposes, flag a month where a transaction occurs, because you may need to access this information in the future. Otherwise, shred monthly statements as new ones arrive, but keep annual statements until the sale of each asset within the account occurs and for seven years thereafter, in case you get audited.

Documents you can keep the most recent of and get rid of the old:

  • Social security statements
  • Annual insurance policy statements
  • Retirement plan statements (RRSP, RESP, etc)
  • Appliance manuals, warranties and receipts – keep these handy and for as long as you own the asset
  • Current contracts for rentals, leases or loans
  • Active memberships, employee benefits, and utility contracts

Learn more about shredding events.

I am an Online Content Specialist from Edmonton at the AMA. Am happiest when it is gloriously gloomy outside.