What to Shred & What to Keep
Document Shredding Guidelines to Protect you from ID Theft
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to recreate your identity without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes, leaving you to pay back the charges and clear your good name.
Shredding documents that contains vital personal information is a key step in protecting yourself from identity theft, because it thwarts potential thieves if they dig in your garbage and or take items from inside your home. Unfortunately, a growing percentage of ID theft is perpetrated by friends, relatives, in-home employees or others you let into your home.
If you’re unsure what to shred, the Attorney General offers these guidelines: Shred all sensitive information you no longer need, including junk mail and paperwork that includes these key identifiers:
To protect your privacy, you should also consider shredding items that include: names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
- Social Security Number;
- Your signature ;
- Account numbers (credit cards, mobile phone accounts, investment accounts, etc.);
- Passwords and PINS; or
- Birth date.
When sorting through documents, there are some easy guidelines on which records you need to keep and those you should shred. If you're not sure what's recommended in your state, the Better Business Bureau and many state Attorney Generals offices agree on these guidelines:
To learn more about what you can do to protect yourself from ID theft, read our articles: Just What is Identity Theft? and Pairing Education with Action Can Protect You from Identity Theft. You may also visit the Federal Trade Commission's website for trustworthy information.
- Old Checks/Check Duplicates: After one year unless you need them for tax purposes.
- Tax Records: Seven years to be safe. If you failed to file a return for any year, keep records indefinitely.
- Pre-approved Credit Card Applications: Immediately.
- Pay Stubs: One year. Match them up to your W2 form, then shred.
- Bank and Credit Card Statements: One year. But hold onto records related to your taxes, business expenses, home improvements, mortgage payments and major purchases for as long as you need them. Like AmericanWest, many banks provide the option to receive your statements online instead of by mail, which makes long-term storage easier.
- Credit Card Contracts/Loan Agreements: Keep as long as the account is active in case you have a dispute or question on the terms of the contract.
- Medical Records: At least a year, but often longer if there's a dispute over a reimbursement.
- Insurance Records: Keep policy information for the life of the policy plus five years. Statements, hospital bills, car repair bills, copies of prescriptions, etc. should be kept up to five years from the date the service was provided.
- Utility/Phone Bills: Shred them after you've paid them, unless they contain tax-deductible expenses or you want to compare costs year-over-year.
- Documentation of a purchase or sale of stocks, bonds and other investments: As long as you own the investment and seven years beyond that time. Monthly statements can be shredded annually after reconciled with the year-end statement.
- Home Purchase/Sale/Improvements: Until six years after you sell.
- Deposit, ATM, credit card and debit card receipts. Hang on to what you need for taxes or proof of purchase. Shred the rest after the transaction appears on your statement.
- Warranties: As long as they are current.