There are lots of questions about documents and other items that should be shredded on a regular basis. In this article I am going to discuss the what, when and how of shredding. But first, let’s talk about why you want to shred documents and other items like expired credit cards and driver’s licenses.
It’s about protecting your identity and other sensitive personal information. This includes financial and health information.
For businesses it’s also about protecting sensitive customer and employee information. For more information on privacy laws check out these resources:
Also check to see if there are local laws/guidelines in place for the protection of sensitive data.
Lets start with what you should be shredding.
- Tax returns and associated records
- Photo IDs
- Bank statements
- Voided checks
- Employee pay stubs
- Credit card information
- Copies of sales receipts
- Documents containing sensitive information such as name, address, phone number, email or social security number
- Employment records
- Unsolicited credit card applications
- Checks received with credit card bills that you don’t intend to use
Tip: Don’t save your credit card information on a retailer’s shopping site.
Please note that I am not an accountant or lawyer These are only my recommendations based on my readings and what I do for myself. If you have additional questions consult your accountant.
When do you shred documents? Is it part of your overall organizing strategy. Is it ad hoc when you have time or getting taken care of right away when necessary? Is it part of your spring cleaning ritual? Does it matter? Some of my documents get shredded as I have time, others get shredded once I’ve done my taxes. On this last point the documents I shred after doing my taxes are not from the current or previous year, but the oldest year that I saved previously.
Tax returns and associated records: in general tax returns and records should be kept for 3 years, but there are exceptions. The IRS website details these exceptions here.
Photo IDs of any kind including expired driver’s licenses should be shredded when they expire or are no longer needed.
If you hang on to your sales receipts to compare with your credit card bills (I do and recommend it) you’ll want to shred them once your bills are validated. While most sales receipts only have the last 4 digits of your credit card number on them, some have the entire number. If your bills are not tax related then shred these once they’re paid. Statements are usually available on line for a period of time if you need to go back and look something up.
Unsolicited credit card applications with your name and address printed on them as well as blank checks that arrive with your credit card bill should be shredded right away if you don’t intend to use them.
Documents containing sensitive information such as name, address, phone number, email or social security number should only be kept as long as they are needed.
With regard to employee pay stubs – While these are tax related documents, you should be matching them against your W2 prior to filing your taxes. Once you are satisfied your W2 is correct, you should be able to discard your pay stubs. However, I have read articles that say to keep them one or two years, so check with your accountant before shredding them.
For businesses – after an employment relationship ends, employers are obligated by federal and state laws to store employee personnel files in a secure location. The length of time can vary depending on the size of your business, the type of employee (exempt, non-exempt) and the state your business is located in. Your accountant should be able to tell you what’s applicable to your business.
The first thing you should do is reduce the number of documents that need to be shredded. View bank and investment statements on line whenever possible. Some banks encourage this by charging a fee to mail statement with images of your cancelled checks.
Setup automatic payment by credit card for your utilities. My telephone and ISP charges go directly to my credit card reducing the number of bills I receive in the mail. Use E-billing if you’re good about keeping track of what needs to be paid when. If you find you’re missing payments because the bills get buried in your email and you don’t/can’t set up alerts E-billing is not for you.
If shredding your documents yourself use a cross cut shredder or a micro cut shredder. They do tend to be more expensive than strip cut shredders but shred documents into smaller pieces of paper making it harder to piece them back together.
There are many shredding services that will mail a box to you that you return sealed with your documents inside. They shred them for you. Some will even provide video proof of having done so. There are also mobile shredding services, and places where you can drop off your documents to be shredded. Some bank branches have shredders in their customer areas that are available for use. Also check with your local UPS store. Here in the Boston area they’ve partnered with Shred Nation to offer a variety of shredding options.
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