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Mobile Records Retention

As Published In WBCCI Blue Beret Magazine
Mobile Records Retention

At work, at home, on the road — no matter who you are or what you do, we’re all bombarded with paper. Some days, as I help clients sort through their mail, I’m amazed that we have any trees left on this planet at all! Junk mail, bills, magazines, newspapers, memos, reports — it’s an endless source of stress. Things have gotten so bad that we’re developing a new fear in our society — “paperphobia,” the fear of having to deal with that stack that’s been sitting there for a week. But a good document management system is the key to overcoming your paper-induced worries!

Thinning the Herd

Allow me to reiterate the first rule of clutter — “the less you have, the easier it is to organize.” As I’ve said before, the paperless office is still a long way off — I can’t guarantee that you’ll ever be able to eliminate paper from your life completely, but you can certainly reduce the size of the piles. Ask yourself a few basic questions about why you’re keeping each piece of paper:

  • Is the information relevant to my life, personal interests, or job?
  • Has this information become outdated?
  • Can I find a more current document?
  • How easy would it be to replace this if I needed the information later?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of it?

How Long Should I Keep It?

I agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry, but fear is a poor organizing guide. If you simply take the time to educate yourself about how long you are legally required to retain each document, you’ll never go wrong. I’ve compiled a standard schedule for purging your files — but please check with your accountant or attorney before pitching out any important legal, business or financial paperwork. You must keep the following documents damn near forever (yes, forever!):

  • income tax returns/payment checks
  • business financial records
  • corporate documents
  • student loan payoff confirmation
  • licenses/patents/trademarks and registration applications
  • legal documents/vital records/contracts
  • CPA audit reports

Hold onto this paperwork for six years:

  • supporting documents/receipts for tax returns
  • accident reports and claims

Keep these records for between one and three years:

  • monthly financial statements
  • credit card statements
  • utility records
  • employment applications
  • expired insurance policies
  • medical bills

You should retain these records according to the following guidelines:

  • car records (until the car is sold)
  • credit card receipts (until verified on your statement)
  • insurance policies (for life of policy)
  • mortgages/deeds/leases (six years beyond the life of agreement)
  • pay stubs (until reconciled with your W-2)
  • property records/builder contracts/improvement receipts (until sold)
  • sales receipts (for the life of warranty or life of the item)
  • stock and bond records (six years beyond selling)
  • warranties and instructions (for the life of product)
  • other bills (until payment verified on the next bill)

Safely Disposing of Paper

Just because you cleaned it out, does not mean that it goes in the trash! Once you put something in a garbage can at the curb, it becomes public property — and reports of identity theft are increasing every day. So to protect yourself from this threat, be sure to dispose of your important records properly. Any piece of paper that contains account numbers, your social security number, or any other sensitive information should be shredded.

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Copyright 2001

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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