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I know that it is important to keep letters when you're asked for proof of address, bank statements, licenses etc etc, but how long should you keep these? I currently have paperwork dating back to 1997 and it's taking up way too much space. I've noticed that you're normally just asked for 3 months worth of paperwork when you need to prove your address etc. Can there be a situation where you could be asked for more than 3 months worth to prove something else?

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3 Answers 3

Assuming you're in the United States, see http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98513,00.html and http://www.cpa.net/resources/retengde.pdf for some recommendations. How long you need to keep records depends on what they are. Anything from "discard as soon as the credit card bill arrives" (for receipts from credit card purchases that have no possible return or warranty impact) to "keep forever" (birth certificates, wedding/divorce records).

Many people are moving toward keeping things electronically. Scanned or born-digital documents don't take a lot of space, and are easy to keep forever. If you take this approach, be certain you have a good (and tested) backup process in place.

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  1. In USA, tax records must be kept for periods of time that depends on the situation. My recommendation is to keep them indefinitely.

  2. Transaction records for items that may be taxable in the future such as investment purchase receipts keep them until you sell the investment. Afterwards, if they are declared on a tax return, keep them with the tax records.

  3. Purchase receipts and warranty certificates of significant items (expensive) better be kept until the item is retired.

  4. Insurance policy until it expires.

If you receive most documents in electronic form and scan the paper documents, you can retain them for ever without worrying about it. Storage media are now large and low cost.

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1997? Wow.

Tax records need to be saved for three to seven years depending on jurisdiction. Take the advice given in other answers, and make individual decisions based on the nature of the record. By and large though, if you have paid a bill, shred and chuck it. The only time this (proof of address history) has ever come into play for me, and I have moved many times, was either to get credit or to vote. I don't think this is much of a concern anymore, but save one or two sample bills to prove address if a drivers license won't suffice.

If you feel the need to retain, scan and store digitally. If the record is important you might consider storing them in the cloud (eg: Google Docs or another online storage solution) and/or Email them to an online account you create just for that purpose. If privacy is a concern, ignore the last suggestion and burn a copy onto a CD/DVD and store somewhere else for safety.

Enjoy the newly freed space when you finally decide to purge!

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