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     Streamlining Your Personal Financial Documents

Every week you introduce more paper into your home, in the form of newspapers, magazines, flyers, coupons, schoolwork, correspondence, bills, and other documents. It may or may not be difficult for you to ensure that reading material and advertising is discarded when you are finished with it, but when it comes to FINANCIAL documents, it can be much more challenging to determine what you need to KEEP, and what you can TOSS. Here are a few simple guidelines.

Discard credit and debit card RECEIPTS and bank slips once the item has cleared your account, except in the following circumstances:
  • if you will be CLAIMING the expense on your income tax return -- all supporting documentation must be retained in case of an audit (check with your local tax authorities if you're not sure what the time period is where you live)

  • if the item is under WARRANTY -- you may be required to provide proof of purchase in the event of a claim

  • the item is expensive and unique -- you will require proof of purchase in case of an INSURANCE claim

It is important that the receipts be filed under the appropriate HEADING (Tax, Warranties, or Insurance) so you don't waste time looking for what you need when it's time to make a claim or file your income taxes. These events can be stressful enough, so why make it even more frustrating for yourself?

If you are holding onto receipts simply as a REFERENCE of your expenses, considering entering the information into a software program such as Quicken or Microsoft Money. This will not only free your home of some of the paper, it will allow you to easily TRACK your income and expenses and to quickly look up any needed information. These programs will also help you to keep track of your current account balances and upcoming bills and to create and track a personal budget. If you don't want to buy and learn a new software program, you can enter your information into a spreadsheet or database program instead. Other options would be to type the information into a word processor, or to MANUALLY enter it into a paper ledger book, but neither of these will give you the reporting power of a financial software program.

Unless you are claiming the expense on your income tax, UTILITY bills and the like can be discarded after a year, as can bank and credit statements. Most companies will not make adjustments if an error is not reported within that time.

When discarding the documents you no longer need, it is highly recommended that they be SHREDDED to avoid the risk of identity theft. This is especially important when dealing with financial documents which may include ACCOUNT numbers as well as your name and address.

By following these simple guidelines, you will reduce the paper CLUTTER in your home, the amount of space you require for your filing system, and the stress and frustration of wasting time searching for the documents you need.


Janet Barclay, Master Virtual Assistant and founder of Organized Assistant, provides administrative assistance and website services to coaches, professional organizers and other small business clients. Learn more about Janet and her business by visiting her website www.organizedassistant.com and her blog www.janetbarclay.com.

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