Sometimes we can be discouraged from doing our filing as we don’t know what we should keep. When it comes to the must keep documents, it’s almost the same rules for everyone. For the rest of our paperwork though, it really is an individual decision. Deciding what to keep can be tough and is a common issue for my clients, so I thought I’d write about it to give you some guidance. Then you’ll have the information you’ll need to be able to decide for yourself.
Being clear on what you want to keep and use will save you time. It makes you feel confident as a bill comes in, that you know exactly what you’re doing with it. You won’t have papers lying around anymore not dealt with because you’re not sure if you should keep it! It is much simpler to purge as you go.
Before I get stuck into specific examples of papers you might have lying around, I’d like to make a blanket statement that less is more. Also, if you understand why you want to keep it, and what you will use it for, then it makes it easier to file, and create rules for them. The rules are good to maintain a slim filing system, instead of one that needs to be purged regularly.
Paperwork that should be kept
Of course, there are a bunch of papers we should all keep:
Tax related paperwork
We’re all required to keep paperwork relating to our tax. This isn’t a forever thing though. The rule of thumb for Australia is keep these papers for five years from the date the return was completed. Keep it for seven years if there’s any concern for legal reason.
The papers needed to keep for tax can differ from person to person. It’s best to speak with your Accountant to get a accurate idea of what you should be keeping. The common things are:
- employment summaries stating the amount you earned in a year
- private health insurance annual statements
- papers relating to shares, investments, pensions and the like
- deductions like stationery purchased, uniforms, or other purchases relating to your job. Some can claim travel and car expenses
- donations to charities
- interest made via any bank accounts,
- and depending on your situation, superannuation information might also be needed
From there, it will depend on your job or if you run a business, and many other factors. So if in doubt ask your Accountant to make sure you’re putting aside the things you need to. (And feel confident that it’s safe to throw out stuff you don’t have to hold onto).
Important personal documents
We all need to keep passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, name change documents, divorce certificates, death certificates, current insurance policies, and current contracts.
You may also want to hold onto papers relating to any litigation you might have been through. Confirm with your lawyer how long you need to hold onto these papers.
Warranties, and receipts relating to warranties
If you have brought a product it usually comes with a warranty. So staple the receipt to the warranty to keep them together. If you’re inclined to keep the Manual for the product, I recommend keeping them all together for an easy find. The receipts will often fade. So either photocopy it and put it with the original receipt, or scan it and save it electronically. Be sure to label it correctly for an easy find.
Depending on the type of work you do (or intend to do), you could start a file for documents that show proof of residence, employment and travel for the last 10 years. This is for the purpose of gaining a security clearance for employment (and I’m sure other reasons). It only needs to be one document for each category. Like a utility bill for each place you’ve lived in the last 10 years. You don’t need to keep all utility bills. If you don’t ever intend to work in a role with this sort of requirement, then you’re probably safe to let it all go.
That covers the standard papers you should keep. What you keep from there is really up to you. If you are still hesitant to throw anything out, don’t agonise about it, as chances are you’ve decided to keep it already. You’re just not clear on the why.
Some other blogs that might help you out are:
- How to get on top of your actionable paperwork
- What to do when your paperwork starts talking to you
- What documents can I throw out?
- Organising your digital documents
- Overwhelming Filing Piles? Follow these rules to make filing easy.
- How to go paperless
In the meantime, have a think about what papers you need to keep, and share this post with a friend if you thought it was helpful.