How Do You File Your Paperwork?

The shredding pile

I mentioned on Twitter last night that I’d finally gotten around to filing nine months worth of bills, paychecks and other assorted paperwork. My “method,” if you can call it that, is quite simplistic.

I have one of those rolling 3-drawer plastic organizers. The top drawer contains only paperwork related to the house purchase and maintenance, while the bottom drawer has all of my previous papers sorted by type and date, and are separated by rubber bands. The middle drawer is my “catch-all” — I toss all of our papers in there (bills that I’ve paid, receipts, etc.) until it gets full. That’s when I finally break down and start filing it correctly, adding it to my organized, rubber-banded piles in the bottom drawer.

It takes about eight or nine months to fill up that catch-all drawer, and last night I was finally ready to get my filing done. Red from Girl With the Red Balloon did bring up a good point:

@RainyDaySaver Why do you file your bills? If you pay online, they usually keep at least 12 months of history saved on the website.

Yes, I’ve made it into the 21st century — I pay all of my bills online. But I still get paper bills in the mail, since I can’t seem to wean myself off of them, no matter how many times my utility company sends me an email asking me to go paperless. I’m comforted (well, as much as one could be by a stack of bills) by seeing the statements each month. I pile them up on my desk and then pay them off, noting the payment date and amount on the statement — another personal finance quirk I picked up from my dad.

Once filed, I keep about 2 years’ worth of statements (longer for paycheck stubs). Once I add the newest batch to the collection, I remove the oldest papers to a pile and then shred them. Although I’ll have to be careful — the last go-round, I broke my shredder, which my brother kindly replaced for me last Christmas.

How do you file your bills and such — do you leave a paper trail, as I do, or do you take Red’s route and shred it all, falling back on online statements when you need to reconcile amounts or dispute a charge?

10 comments to How Do You File Your Paperwork?

  • For the current year I find a box about the size of a shoe box or a bit larger. I put the year on the outside with a marker. When I pay a bill or am finished with a paper I ‘may’ need I put it in the box. At the end of the year I tape it shut and start a new box. Every few years I open old boxes and shred the contents, permanently filing anything that I think I might still need (not much usually). I currently have about 10 years worth of boxes because it’s time to eliminate. I have separate actual file folders for house related stuff, 401(k), etc. Just the paper bills already paid and such go into my catch-all box. At least I know where it is if I need it.

  • Twelve months worth of records saved in some bank’s online archives (often in some vague format) will not suffice if you’re audited. You should keep all these records, especially those that are even vaguely tax-related, for seven years. Tax returns need to be kept permanently, forever and ever, world without end.

    • Nicole

      @Funny: Excellent reminder. I have all of my tax-related paperwork going back to when I was 18 — tax returns, pay stubs, even tax refund stubs. That’s not even a question — like you said, at least seven years. Same goes for anything related to our home purchase. This was the first year we itemized on our tax returns, so I’m permanently keeping any related receipts for proof of purchase. But I only keep two years’ worth of credit card statements, utility bills and general checking/savings account statements. Do you keep these types of statements longer?

  • I’ve only just switched to online for two of my utilities. A third doesn’t offer it yet and neither does my insurnace (although that’s only quarterly or annually, so it’s not too bad.)

    A teller at my bank couldn’t tell me how long online statements are kept, but it looks like a year or less. So I’m sticking with paper for now. I’ve only ever needed to go back and check one thing (useless LL) but that experience alone has drilled the importance of record keeping into me !

  • We are not very organized. I have a catch-all plastic bin that I go through every year or so. Almost all our bills are emailed to me, so they have their own mail folders. The bills that do arrive by mail are kept in 3 month intervals and then tossed as another one comes in…I figure that gives me enough time to dispute charges for sure and if I need anything longer-term, I can get it online. Mainly, we have piles…

  • I have a plastic bin that contains a bunch of hanging folders organized by category and then sub-categorized by company.

    I try to organize as they come in but when I do not have time, I just put the papers on top of the plastic bin then when they start toppling over, I organize.

    I do not receive any paper bills whatsoever. The only paper I file are for my car registration and insurance, pay stubs and any general notices I need to keep.

    As someone who moves a lot, I cannot take years of paper around with me. I also need to be very organized so nothing gets lost in a move.

    • Nicole

      @Leslie: I moved almost every year for 12 years, and I carted a LOT of paper with me, haha. You’re doing it the smart way!

  • Alana

    I actually don’t file anything but paystubs anymore. I do pay all my bills online and still receive paper statements (I really need to change that, but like you, there’s something comforting about it), but once the bill is paid, I shred it by the time the next bill comes.

  • […] Day Saver asks “How do you file your paperwork?” I just use a shoebox. It isn’t a fancy system but it works for […]

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