Household Records – What Papers Should I Keep, and For How Long?

If you have a home, a job, kids, and a banking account you have papers you need to file. Add things like investments, owning your own home and more you will really want to be organized about your home filing system.

Over the years I’ve gotten really good about keeping everything. All kinds of papers. Our taxes from our first year as a married couple going forward and much more. Surprisingly our filing cabinet is still manageable but what do we REALLY need to keep in our home files and for how long?

What papers to keep and file in your home.

Paper or Paperless?

We live in an era where paper is becoming less and less. But some of us (raising hand) still like to have something tangible in hand. What if you’re in the middle and want to have as little paper as possible but still some super important things on hand? You never know what you might need when so what papers should you hold on to in hard copy? So how should you set up your filing?

Just In Case

Let’s start by being neat about our filing. For paperwork you decide to hold on to get rid of any excess envelopes or marketing materials that are included in your mailing. Store items like insurance policies and essential paperwork in a box that can be moved quickly and easily in case of a DISASTER such as in a fireproof file box. When it comes to deciding what to hold on to, there are few fixed rules. But experts offer the following guidelines.

Tax Papers

According to the Internal Revenue Service, you should save your returns for at least three years. And the IRS can audit your return for up to three years after it has been file. Depending upon who you talk you may will be advised to also save W-2 forms, medical receipts, donations and other proof for items you want to use as deductions for three years as well. And other financial experts will advise you to keep these same records for up to seven years. The IRS can also pull up your file if there is reason to believe that there has been a fraud or underreported income.

What Personal Papers to Hold on to

Now let’s talk about those personal papers. Things like your marriage certificate, birth and death records, social security cards and other personal documentation. You never want to get rid of these and they should be kept in a safe place. That fireproof file box is a good idea or your safe deposit box.


Now what about your investment papers? Things like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Follow same guidelines as tax papers to documents taxable gains, said Cindy Hockenberry, tax information analyst at the National Association of Tax Professionals. Without backup documentation, the Internal Revenue Service will determine the original cost to be zero, greatly amplifying the GAINS on which tax must be paid. Permanently retain paperwork related to the status of pensions and retirement benefits.

my home office desktop file box


Even though it may feel like it you don’t need to hold on to bank statements or most of your canceled checks once they’ve been reconciled. We hold on to ours for one year which is the same as most experts advise. But hold on to your mortgage and loan documents until you’ve paid off those loans.

Credit Bills and Utility Statements

Hang on to your credit card statements long enough to check for accuracy. Again I like to use the one year rule for these papers as is also advised by some experts. As for utility bills hold on to six months of those. You may need them for things like establishing a place of residence when applying for a mortgage, library cards and new accounts.

Pay Stubs

Do you hold on to those little extras attached to your paycheck? Some experts advise keeping them for a year. After that, you can toss them but be sure to keep the final stub that shows your total annual income. For about three years.


I’ve just had a conversation with my husband about receipt saving. I imagine all those grocery receipts you’ll only need for a week or two (in case you need to return something). Save receipts for major purchases until warranties expire. Save records of home improvements to your home. This helps to document what may be taxable.

Organize Your Filing

And finally, for all those papers you are holding on to set up a good filing system.

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