Managing Your Financial Paperwork

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While fighting off a rising tide of paper cannot solve all your financial woes, it can certainly make a difference. Being better organized means you have reduced chances of missing payments, made your job easier job to do at tax time, and avoided some dings on your credit score.

But if “keeping financial records” means tossing everything in a cardboard carton, or if throwing away a single ATM receipt makes you sweat, here are a few organization guidelines that could help:

Let’s start with the papers you should really hang onto and keep safe, in a safety deposit box or other secure location. These include birth certificates, adoption documents, marriage licenses, partnership documents, deeds and titles, wills, and death certificates. If you have paid off a mortgage, you should keep that record indefinitely.

Some of these documents are replaceable, but not without significant time and effort, and many people trying to retrieve birth certificates, for example, are dismayed to discover that records (or the buildings that house them) can be lost forever.

Forbes recommends you “keep brokerage statements indefinitely” for taxable accounts. You are responsible for reporting the cost basis of any security you sell to calculate the capital gains tax. For a mutual fund with 30 years of reinvested dividends, each dividend payment is part of the cost basis. As a result, the cost basis can sometimes be computed only if you have the complete transaction history.

Again, you may be able to retrieve some of this information from your investment firm, but if you have switched firms or brokers, the original investment documents may be difficult to access.

Records of loans that have been repaid in full should be kept for seven years, as should income tax returns and any papers (cancelled checks, receipts, etc.) documenting deductions or income.

Many types of documents have a three-year “shelf life.” You save these papers primarily as evidence in the case of an audit or dispute. These include sales records for real property; medical bills, and insurance policies that have been cancelled. Additionally, if you have claimed certain deductions, such as a home office, or paid business expenses with check or credit card, you need to hang onto those bills, receipts, and statements for three years.

One year is usually long enough (except as noted above) for utility bills, bank statements and cancelled checks, pay stubs, credit card receipts, and monthly or quarterly investment statements.

ATM receipts can be discarded after a month, once you’ve balanced the account with your bank statement.

Keep your warranty records together in chronological order, along with matching receipts. Once the warranty has expired, you can discard the paperwork, unless you need it for tax purposes or believe you may be able to return the item.

If you have questions about your financial record-keeping, your financial advisor will be able to provide answers. If you have questions about borrowing for any kind of purchase, your Sente Mortgage loan officer will be happy to talk with you. Give us a call any time.

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