How to Organize Financial Records

Here's a scary factoid: -Ab two-income couple who have a house and two kids will generate more than 1,000 financial statements and receipts a year, If you indiscriminately file all these papers, you'd need to build an addition on your home for storage room.

Better yet, here's some guidance on what to toss, what to keep and how to got it all organized.

What can you throw out?

While you can throw out most recipts immediately, some you need to keep briefly and some indefinitely. Be careful to tear up receipts that carry your credit card or debit card number.

Throw out ATM slips once you've written the transaction in your checkbook.

Throw away credit-card statements after you've checked the bill for accuracy and fraudulent charges.

Throw away utility, phone and cable bills after you have checked for accuracy and paid them.

What should you keep?

Keep deposit slips until the deposit appears on your bank statemet.

Keep receipts for appliances. Staple them to warranty and store them in a file for all household appliances.

Keep receipts for deductible expenses (see IRS Publication 17 for a list of deductible expenses) and hold them in a file for preparing your tax return. Keep receipts for expenses that must be submitted for reimbursement from employer-provided health-care and child-care spending accounts.

How long should you keep It?

One year. Hang on to monthly statemants of financial accounts unless each new statement shows the cumulative activity for the year (common for mutual-fund and mortgage statements). Also, since most.banks no longer return cancelled checks, hold the pages that include copies of checks for deductible expenses, if you have no other proof of payment. Keep all paystubs until you've reconciled them with the year-end statement, your W-2 form and your 401(K) plan (or other contributory retirement plan) statement. Keep monthly investment account and retirement plan statements until you've reconciled them with the year-end statement.

Three years. Keep your federal and state income tax returns and related receipts and statements for at least three years.

Six years. Kep tax returris and all related information for six years if there's the possibility you may have under-reported income by 25% or more. With the complexity of the tax code, confusion over cost basis records
or tricky appraisals of certain property,  this can occur more often than you might think.

Seven years. Keep any return and documents that includes a claim for deducting worthless securities for seven years. You do the math.

For life of asset. Keep records of the cost of assets that can be sold or transferred for the entire time you hold them, a.k.a. the life-of-the-asset holding period. Keep a file including the purchase statement and any receipts for improvements to a home or property. Keep all confirmations for investment purchases, stock grants, etc. and attach them to confirmations of sales or transfers of the shares.

Also, the IRS has an unlimited period of limitations to request information and returns for lack of filing or when fraud is suspected. If this is your situation, there are probably things other than good record keeping to think about.

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