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Freetaxusa2012 Publication 531 - Additional Material Prev  Up  Next   Home   More Online Publications

Managing Household Records

When was the last time you couldn't find an important paper you knew you had carefully put away? How do people decide where to store and keep such records? And how do they know what to keep, what to throw away, and when? Do you have a simple system or roadmap for important papers (PDF |download Adobe Reader) to which you or a loved one can refer to in case of an emergency?

Every household must work out its own records management system, but some general guidelines can help. A good system will provide an overview of what happens to property after a major life event occurs.

Active File

First, gather your important papers and important documents from throughout your home. Put these documents into three piles: an active file, dead storage, and items to discard or shred. The active file should include documents and financial records you deal with on a regular basis and need to refer to. Keep these readily accessible at home:

  • Appliance manuals, warranties and service contracts
  • Bank statements
  • Bill payment receipts
  • Bills awaiting payment
  • Credit card information
  • Education records, diploma, transcripts, etc.
  • Employment records
  • Family health records, including vaccination histories
  • Health benefit information
  • Household inventory
  • Income tax working papers
  • Insurance policies
  • Loan statements and payment books
  • Password list
  • Receipts for items under warranty
  • Safe deposit box inventory (and key)
  • Tax receipts, such as those received for charitable deductions

Dead Storage

All active file papers over 3-years-old are considered dead storage. This may not necessarily apply to everything—for example, appliance manuals that you use frequently should stay in the active file.

Items to Discard

  • Cancelled checks for cash or nondeductible expenses
  • Expired warranties
  • Pay stubs, after reconciling with W-2
  • Other records no longer needed, such as those that were replaced by newer versions, manuals of appliances that you've replaced, etc.
How Long to Keep Documents
Document How Long to Keep It
Bank statements 1 year, unless needed to support tax filings
Birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, passports, education records, military service records Forever
Contracts Until updated
Credit card records Until paid, unless needed to support tax filings
Home purchase and improvement records As long as you own the property
Household inventory Forever; update as needed
Insurance, life Forever
Insurance, car, home, etc. Until you renew the policy
Investment statements Shred your monthly statements; keep annual statements until you sell the investments
Investment certificates Until you cash or sell the item
Loan documents Until you sell the item the loan was for
Real estate deeds As long as you own the property
Receipts for large purchases Until you sell or discard the item
Service contracts and warranties Until you sell or discard the item
Social Security card Forever
Social Security statement When you get your new statement online, shred the old one
Tax records 7 years from the filing date
Vehicle titles Until you sell or dispose of the car
Will Until updated

Create Your Filing System

Generally, your home file should include all the items you refer to frequently including bills, warranties, bank statements, etc. You’ll also need a secondary storage location for your more important, difficult to replace papers, such as passports, vehicle titles, birth certificates, etc. A fireproof/waterproof safe may be one possibility, but it's better to store those records in a location away from home, such as a bank safe deposit box.

Organize your home filing system (PDF | download Adobe Reader) in a way that you can understand and manage. Choose one member of your household as file manager who will take responsibility for keeping the filing up-to-date and consistent. However, in case of an emergency, everyone in the household needs to be familiar with the system, including children old enough to understand how to use it. Develop and stick to a regular filing and paperwork schedule to avoid having to deal with backlogged papers. A few minutes once or twice a week should be sufficient.

Consider scanning and storing some documents electronically since it's best to save your important documents and files in a way that can easily be carried away and accessed later. Scanning will give you easy access to your documents and allow you to transfer them via e-mail and easily make back-up copies. Investing in an external hard drive for your computer and regularly backing up important documents will allow you to carry away the external hard drive at a moment's notice.

If you don’t have the time or the desire to take these steps, or have realized that the task is too much to handle, consider asking a friend or family member to help you focus and give a fresh perspective. Or, you may want to consider hiring a professional organizer to provide structure, solutions, and systems, and help you gain a sense of control.

Safe Deposit Box

Once you have organized your documents, you’ll want to consider getting an off-site storage location, such as a safe deposit box. Use the safe deposit box for originals, but remember, you'll still need copies at home if something tragic should happen to you and your safe deposit box gets sealed. Always seal documents stored in a safe deposit box in airtight waterproof containers (like Ziploc bags) to ensure they don’t get damaged. If you'd rather keep your records at home, then get a fireproof/waterproof safe. A good rule of thumb is: Put documents in the box if you can't easily replace them or if you don't know what might happen if you don't have them.

If applicable, you should have official or certified copies of documents for your safe deposit box. "Official" means an original copy with all required signatures. Select documents, such as birth certificates, must also be certified or notarized to be considered valid. You can get most government records for free or at low cost from a government office or online at a government agency's website. If you are unsure whether you need a certified copy, or want more information about which local government office can give you originals of these documents, contact your local consumer protection office. Consult your attorney before you put an original copy of your will in a safe deposit box—some states don’t permit access after a person dies.

If you need to obtain documents regarding birth, death, marriage, or divorce, check out Where to Write for Vital Records for guidance. Be wary of companies that offer to sell you copies of official papers; you should check with the appropriate government agency to see if they will provide the same information free or at a lower price.

Consider keeping copies of the following documents in a safe deposit box or locked in a fireproof/waterproof safe in your home:

  • Adoption papers
  • Advance directives*
  • Birth and death certificates
  • Citizenship papers
  • Contracts of importance
  • Deeds and property titles
  • Household inventory
  • Life insurance policies
  • Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
  • Military discharge papers
  • Passports
  • Powers of attorney*
  • Social Security cards
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Wills*

*Since the safe deposit box will be sealed at your death, keep a copy of your will somewhere accessible. The same goes for the advance directive and powers of attorney since you may not be able to give others access to the safe deposit box.

Grab and Go Kit for Emergencies

Disasters like floods, fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes strike without warning and can affect anyone. Your number one priority in these situations is making sure your family is safe—not finding your most recent copies of insurance policies or bank statements. An easy-to-grab emergency financial records kit (PDF | download Adobe Reader) will make sure you have access to important documents in case the unexpected happens to you.

What Documents Should You Have Ready?

Store the documents in an accordion file and keep it in your emergency supply kit so that everything you need is together. Items you should put in the kit include originals or copies of:

  • Birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees
  • Social Security cards of household members
  • Driver's license and other wallet cards
  • Will and/or trust documents; powers of attorney
  • Recent income tax return
  • Passports and/or other identity documents
  • Military discharge papers
  • A list of your prescriptions: name of medication, dosage, pharmacy

Other important papers include:

  • Contacts for family members, employer, financial advisors, attorney, accountant, and banker
  • Insurance policy information
  • Bank, credit union, and credit card account list
  • Summary of personal, financial, property, and other vital information

Other items to consider including:

  • Safe deposit box keys and/or safe combination
  • Computer user names and passwords; CD with relevant personal, financial, legal files
  • Some emergency cash

Remember that these documents contain personal information like social security numbers and bank account information that could be used against you if it fell into the wrong hands. Be sure your emergency financial records kit is stored in a secure location in your home so it is easy for you to carry away in a disaster not for a thief to carry away in a robbery.

The Freetaxusa2012

Freetaxusa2012 Index A Acquisition indebtedness, Average acquisition indebtedness. Freetaxusa2012 Annuity obligations, Annuity obligation. Freetaxusa2012 By gift or bequest of mortgaged property, Exception for property acquired by gift, bequest, or devise. Freetaxusa2012 Change in property use, Change in use of property. Freetaxusa2012 Continued debt, Continued debt. Freetaxusa2012 Debt modifying existing, Modifying existing debt. Freetaxusa2012 Federal financing, Certain federal financing. Freetaxusa2012 For performing exempt purpose, Debt incurred in performing exempt purpose. Freetaxusa2012 Obligation to return collateral, Securities loans. Freetaxusa2012 Property subject to mortgage or lien, Property acquired subject to mortgage or lien. Freetaxusa2012 Real property, Real property debts of qualified organizations. Freetaxusa2012 Advertising income, Exploitation of Exempt Activity—Advertising Sales Agricultural organization dues, Dues of Agricultural Organizations and Business Leagues Assistance (see Tax help) B Business league dues, Dues of Agricultural Organizations and Business Leagues C Churches, Churches. Freetaxusa2012 Contributions deduction, Charitable contributions deduction. Freetaxusa2012 Convention or trade show activity, Convention or trade show activity. Freetaxusa2012 D Debt-financed property, Income From Debt-Financed Property Acquired in liquidation, Basis for debt-financed property acquired in corporate liquidation. Freetaxusa2012 Dues, agricultural organizations and business leagues, Dues of Agricultural Organizations and Business Leagues E Exchange or rental of member lists, Exchange or rental of member lists. Freetaxusa2012 Excluded trade or business activities, Excluded Trade or Business Activities Exclusions, Volunteer workforce. Freetaxusa2012 Sponsorship, Qualified sponsorship activities. Freetaxusa2012 Exempt function income, Exempt function income. Freetaxusa2012 Exploitation of exempt activity Advertising income, Exploitation of Exempt Activity—Advertising Sales Exploitation of exempt functions, Exploitation of exempt functions. Freetaxusa2012 F Form 990-T, Returns and Filing Requirements Free tax services, How to Get Tax Help H Help (see Tax help) I Income from research, Income from research. Freetaxusa2012 L Limits, Limits. Freetaxusa2012 M More information (see Tax help) N Net operating loss deduction, Modifications Nonrecognition of gain, Nonrecognition of gain. Freetaxusa2012 P Publications (see Tax help) R Rents, Rents. Freetaxusa2012 Return, Returns and Filing Requirements Royalties, Royalties. Freetaxusa2012 S Specific deduction, Specific deduction. Freetaxusa2012 T Tax, Organizations Subject to the Tax Alternative minimum, Alternative minimum tax. Freetaxusa2012 Colleges and universities, Colleges and universities. Freetaxusa2012 Deposits, Federal Tax Deposits Must be Made by Electronic Funds Transfer Estimated, Payment of Tax Organizations affected, Organizations Subject to the Tax Payment, Public Inspection Requirements of Section 501(c)(3) Organizations. Freetaxusa2012 Rates, The Tax and Filing Requirements Return, Returns and Filing Requirements Title-holding corporations, Title-holding corporations. Freetaxusa2012 U. Freetaxusa2012 S. Freetaxusa2012 instrumentalities, U. Freetaxusa2012 S. Freetaxusa2012 instrumentalities. Freetaxusa2012 Tax help, How to Get Tax Help Taxpayer Advocate, Contacting your Taxpayer Advocate. Freetaxusa2012 Title-holding corporations, Title-holding corporations. Freetaxusa2012 TTY/TDD information, How to Get Tax Help U Unrelated business Hospital laboratory, Nonpatient laboratory testing. Freetaxusa2012 Unrelated business income, Unrelated Business Taxable Income, Income Advertising income, Exploitation of Exempt Activity—Advertising Sales Certain trusts, Special Rules for Social Clubs, VEBAs, SUBs, and GLSOs Controlled organizations, Income From Controlled Organizations Debt-financed property, Income From Debt-Financed Property Deductions, Deductions Employees beneficiary associations, Special Rules for Social Clubs, VEBAs, SUBs, and GLSOs Exclusions, Exclusions Foreign organizations, Special Rules for Foreign Organizations Income from gambling activities, Legal definition. Freetaxusa2012 Income from lending securities, Income from lending securities. Freetaxusa2012 Modifications, Modifications Partnership income or loss, Partnership Income or Loss Products of exempt functions, Selling of products of exempt functions. Freetaxusa2012 S corporation income, S Corporation Income or Loss S corporation income or loss, S Corporation Income or Loss Social clubs, Special Rules for Social Clubs, VEBAs, SUBs, and GLSOs Veterans organizations, Special Rules for Veterans' Organizations Unrelated debt-financed income, Certain federal financing. Freetaxusa2012 Average acquisition indebtedness, Average acquisition indebtedness. Freetaxusa2012 Average adjusted basis, Average adjusted basis. Freetaxusa2012 Computation, Computation of Debt-Financed Income Debt/basis percentage, Computation of debt/basis percentage. Freetaxusa2012 Deductions, Deductions for Debt-Financed Property Gains from dispositions, Gain or loss from sale or other disposition of property. Freetaxusa2012 Indeterminate property price, Indeterminate price. Freetaxusa2012 Unrelated trade or business, Unrelated Trade or Business Artists facilities, Artists' facilities. Freetaxusa2012 Book publishing, Book publishing. Freetaxusa2012 Broadcasting rights, Broadcasting rights. Freetaxusa2012 Business league's parking and bus services, Business league's parking and bus services. Freetaxusa2012 Convenience of members, Convenience of members. Freetaxusa2012 Convention or trade show, Convention or trade show activity. Freetaxusa2012 Directory of members, Directory of members. Freetaxusa2012 Distribution of low cost articles, Distribution of low cost articles. Freetaxusa2012 Dual use facilities, etc. Freetaxusa2012 , Dual use of assets or facilities. Freetaxusa2012 Employees association sales, Employee association sales. Freetaxusa2012 Exclusions, Excluded Trade or Business Activities Exploitation of exempt functions, Exploitation of exempt functions. Freetaxusa2012 Gambling activities other than bingo, Gambling activities other than bingo. Freetaxusa2012 Halfway house, Halfway house workshop. Freetaxusa2012 Health club program, Health club program. Freetaxusa2012 Hearing aid sales, Sales of hearing aids. Freetaxusa2012 Hospital facilities, Hospital facilities. Freetaxusa2012 Hospital services, Hospital services. Freetaxusa2012 Insurance programs, Insurance programs. Freetaxusa2012 Magazine publishing, Magazine publishing. Freetaxusa2012 Member lists rentals, etc. Freetaxusa2012 , Exchange or rental of member lists. Freetaxusa2012 Membership list sales, Membership list sales. Freetaxusa2012 Miniature golf course, Miniature golf course. Freetaxusa2012 Museum eating facilities, Museum eating facilities. Freetaxusa2012 Museum greeting card sales, Museum greeting card sales. Freetaxusa2012 Pet boarding and grooming services, Pet boarding and grooming services. Freetaxusa2012 Pole rentals, Pole rentals. Freetaxusa2012 Public entertainment activity, Public entertainment activity. Freetaxusa2012 Publishing legal notices, Publishing legal notices. Freetaxusa2012 Regularly conducted, Regularly conducted. Freetaxusa2012 Sales commissions, Sales commissions. Freetaxusa2012 Sales of advertising space, Sales of advertising space. Freetaxusa2012 School facilities, School facilities. Freetaxusa2012 School handicraft shop, School handicraft shop. Freetaxusa2012 Selling donated merchandise, Selling donated merchandise. Freetaxusa2012 Selling endorsements, Selling endorsements. Freetaxusa2012 Sponsoring entertainment events, Sponsoring entertainment events. Freetaxusa2012 Substantially related, Not substantially related. Freetaxusa2012 Trade or business defined, Trade or business. Freetaxusa2012 Travel tour programs, Travel tour programs. Freetaxusa2012 Volunteer workforce, Volunteer workforce. Freetaxusa2012 Yearbook advertising, Yearbook advertising. Freetaxusa2012 Youth residence, Youth residence. Freetaxusa2012 Unstated trade or business Bingo games, Bingo games. Freetaxusa2012 V Volunteer fire company, Excluded Trade or Business Activities W When to file, When to file. Freetaxusa2012 Prev  Up     Home   More Online Publications