We all want to keep our personal information safe and away from everybody else, but the need to keep physical, original copies of it sometimes gets in the way of that, and you might not even know what to keep and what to throw away.
The following is a basic guide of those documents you should never throw out and how to store them securely, away from prying eyes but close enough at hand that you’ll be able to consult them whenever you want. Let’s see what they are!
Social Security Cards
Your social security card should never, ever leave your house, because losing it is a surefire way of having your identity stolen. Instead, opt for keeping the card of every family member packaged together and locked up at home.
Again, every family member’s birth certificate should be kept together. You can make several copies of each to keep at home for some purposes, while your original can be stored away in a safe deposit box, so you can access the information in it without risking the document at all.
The original copy of this document is something that your attorney should hold onto, but it’s standard procedure to receive two copies of it. One is for your home file, while the other should go to a safe deposit box. If you change anything about your will, make sure to dispose of the previous copies appropriately and replace them with the updated ones.
Annual Tax Returns
While the IRS only has three years to perform an audit, which means you can throw out other tax-related documents after that period, your annual tax returns are something you should hold onto indefinitely. We recommend storing them in the safe deposit box with all your other docs, to avoid clutter in your house.
A vacation means taking your passport with you, but it’s a good idea to also carry a copy in case the original gets lost or stolen. This will make sure you’re not faced with such an extensive, international bureaucratic process while abroad. While at home, keep it secured at home, locked.
While it’s important to keep at least some record of completion from all educational levels, here we’re mostly referring to your high school certificate or GED and college certificate, as well as any majors, masters, and anything above that you’ve done.
Real estate certificates, automobile titles and receipts for major purchases
We’re putting these together because the important part of storing them is to back up your ownership of large, expensive or major purchases. Automobile and real estate papers should be stored for as long as you own them, of course, but you can dispose of the receipts as soon as your warranties on them, if applicable, expire.
How to store them?
Safe deposit boxes
While keeping your documents as close to you as possible, like in the attic or a wall safe, sounds logical because of how fast you can access them this way, a safe deposit box will offer a degree of protection that’s hard to ignore. Most banks will offer you a discount on one if you’re already a customer, but make sure to keep copies of everything you store with you at home.
If you definitely want to keep your documents stored at home, or a safe deposit box is not an option, then you should look for a safe that will resist fires, floods and robbery attempts, and place it somewhere that’s both safe and easy to reach in case of an emergency. Also, a safe like this will probably take some space, so you have to organize and tidy the room accordingly. They are definitely not the best way to store paper documents, but some options are pretty good.
Shred what you don’t need anymore
The focus of this list was how to keep important documents safe, but you should also know when to destroy them. Whenever you replace or don’t need to store a certain document or receipt anymore, it’s better to shred it than to just throw it out. While not up to date, these documents still contain sensitive information about you or your family, and it’s better to make sure that it can’t be used by anyone, even if it’s “just trash” now.