Americans go through about 69 million tons of paper every year, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Books and magazines comprise a large percentage of this total, but the boxes of financial documents stashed in closets and filing cabinets across the country certainly don’t help. It’s good to keep records of your transactions and accounts, but in this age, there’s just no reason to go overboard. It not only increases your risk of identity theft, but it wastes paper and takes up space. We have four ideas to help you decrease your record-keeping clutter and get organized:
Lucky 3 and 7
The IRS has three years from the time a tax return is filed to audit it. If an egregious error is discovered, they may ask you to voluntarily extend this time frame. You are not required to oblige, but the agency would then use only the information it has available to determine any potential penalties, according to IRS.gov. Those who file everything without any book-cooking trickery can safely shred returns that are more than three years old. Records of large or unusual write-offs should be kept for seven years, just in case proof is ever requested.
Two Is Enough
The typical person only needs two bank accounts, usually a checking account at a national bank and a savings account at a local bank or credit union. But many people open accounts to get a gift card or some other incentive and simply forget about them. Take inventory of all your accounts by going through old check registers and rent or mortgage receipts. If you think you may have opened an account at a bank but no longer have the account number, send the bank a certified letter requesting verification. Include as much information as possible, so they can find the account if it exists. Close accounts you are not using and transfer any funds to your primary checking or savings account.
Use Financial Apps
Stop adding to your existing clutter by using a financial planning app. Three we like:
- Koku consolidates your finances, tracks your spending and keeps virtual receipts of transactions you make with a credit or debit card. You can access it from your iPhone or Mac anytime, eliminating the need to keep receipts.
- Mint.com is one of the first personal finance apps created, and it is still one of the best. It communicates with your bank to analyze spending habits and creates a budget for you. It also sends reminders when bills are due and keeps all your information secure with a four-digit PIN.
You can get most financial records and other important documents in digital form now, but that can be just as hard to keep track of as files of paper. Using a cloud backup system can organize all of your files and maintain digital backups so you never lose them. Cloud services like Mozy can be used for business or personal solutions and will even sync to your phone or mobile device so you can access your files from anywhere.
With some documents, you need a paper copy or maybe just prefer it. The problem is finding the right paper when you need it. A document scanner is a great way to keep track of the documents, receipts and other paper records you keep. You can scan a copy to your computer, which is searchable for quick access. You can also cross reference to physical files so you know right where to look for the original copy. Some scanners can be pricey, but if you only have a few documents to scan there are mobile apps like TurboScan or ScannerPro that create digital copies directly from your phone.