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What financial documents should you keep on file?... And for how long? Thumbnail

What financial documents should you keep on file?... And for how long?

You might be surprised how many people have financial documents scattered all over the house –on the kitchen table, underneath old newspapers, in the hall closet, in the basement. If this describes your financial “filing system,” you may have a tough timekeeping tabs on your financial life.

Organization will help you, your advisors ... and even your heirs. If you’ve got a meeting scheduled with an accountant, financial consultant, mortgage lender or insurance agent, spare yourself a last-minute scavenger hunt. Take an hour or two to put things in good order. If nothing else, do it for your heirs. When you pass, they will be contending with emotions and won’t want to search through your house for this or that piece of paper.

One large file cabinet may suffice. You might prefer a few storage boxes, or stackable units sold at your local big-box retailer. Whatever you choose, here is what should go inside:

Investment statements.

Organize them by type: IRA statements, 401(k) statements, mutual fund statements. The annual statements are the ones that really matter; you may decide to forego filing the quarterlies or monthlies.

When it comes to your IRA or 401(k), is it wise to retain your Form 8606s (which report nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs), yourForm 5498s (the “Fair Market Value Information” statements that your IRA custodian sends you each May), and your Form 1099-Rs (which report IRA income distributions).1

In addition, you will want to retain any record of your original investment in a fund or a stock. (This will help you determine capital gains or losses. Your annual statement will show you the dividend or capital gains distribution.)

Bank statements.

If you have any fear of being audited, keep the last three years’ worth of them on file. You may question whether the paper trail has to be that long, but under certain circumstances (lawsuit, divorce, past debts) it may be wise to keep more than three years of statements on file.

Credit card statements.

These are less necessary to have around than many people think, but you might want to keep any statements detailing tax-related purchases for up to seven years.

Mortgage documents, mortgage statements and HELOC statements.

As a rule, keep mortgage statements for the ownership period of the property plus seven years. As for your mortgage documents, you may wish to keep them for the ownership period of the property plus ten years (though your county recorder’s office likely has copies).

Your annual Social Security benefits statement.

Keep the most recent one, as it shows your earnings record from the day you started working. Please note, however: if you see an error, you will want to have your W-2 or tax return for the particular year on hand to help Social Security correct it.

you pass, they will be contending with emotions and won’t want to search through your house for this or that piece of paper.One large file cabinet may suffice. You might prefer a few storage boxes, or stackable units sold at your local big-box retailer. Whatever you choose, here is what should go inside:Investment statements. Organize them by type: IRA statements, 401(k) statements, mutual fund statements. Theannual statements are the ones that really matter; you may decide to forego filing the quarterlies or monthlies.When it comes to your IRA or 401(k), is it wise to retain your Form 8606s (which report nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs), yourForm 5498s (the “Fair Market Value Information” statements that your IRA custodian sends you each May), and your Form 1099-Rs (which report IRA income distributions).1In addition, you will want to retain any record of your original investment in a fund or a stock. (This will help you determine capital gains or losses. Your annual statement will show you the dividend or capital gains distribution.)Bank statements. If you have any fear of being audited, keep the last three years’ worth of them on file. Youmay question whether the paper trail has to be that long, but under certain circumstances (lawsuit, divorce, past debts) it may be wise to keep more than three years of statements on file.Credit card statements. These are less necessary to have around than many people think, but you might want to keep any statements detailing tax-related purchases for up to seven years.Mortgage documents, mortgage statements and HELOC statements. As a rule, keep mortgage statements for the ownership period of the property plus seven years. As for your mortgage documents, you may wish to keep them for the ownership period 

of the property plus ten years (though your county recorder’s office likely has copies).Your annual Social Security benefits statement. Keep the most recent one, as it shows your earnings record from the day you started working. Please note, however: if you see an error, you will want to have your W-2 or tax return for the particular year on hand to help Social Security correct it.