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Shred It? File It? Or Recycle It?

confidential shredded documents
Here are some easy tips for what to shred and what to keep.

Paper, paper everywhere! What do you do with those mountains of receipts, tax returns, cable bills and credit card statements? You don’t want to be too casual with your personal information, even if it’s just a random bill or monthly communication. Here’s a quick guide to what you should keep and what you should shred to stay safe.

Shred It:

  • Pay stubs. After you do your taxes, and you check your W-2’s against your year’s income (you DO do this, right?) you can shred those pay
  • Paid bills. Once you’ve paid a bill, you can shred the paper statement. To avoid someone stealing your identity, it’s always a good idea to shred items related to credit cards and utility
  • Credit card offers. You get a million of these in the mail, and you should immediately OPEN them, and then if you don’t want to apply for the card, shred them
  • Sales and ATM receipts. Cleaning out your wallet or purse you might find a handful of crumpled receipts from a dinner out or an ATM run. If you don’t need them for expense reporting for your work or taxes, shred them immediately.
  • School communications for any children or dependents. To keep your children’s identity safe, make sure to shred documents from their school or activities, say privacy experts. You can also shred information that details where a parent is staying in assisted living care, including their contact information and

Fun fact. When you’re done shredding, you can go a step further and use those shreds in your compost bin!

File It:

  • Taxes. Keep past tax returns for at least three years (sometimes up to seven years). When that time is up, you can shred your return and supporting documentation.
    • You generally have three years to claim a refund on a particular tax year, and the IRS also generally has three years to assess an additional tax if you don’t properly report your income, says Anna Sandall and the experts at H&R Block.
  • IDs and more. Documents that prove your identity, like birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, marriage licenses and divorce decrees. You might want to consider a fire-proof place to store important documents like these, like a fire safe or safety deposit box at a
  • Ownership papers. Vehicle titles, mortgage documents (as long as they’re current) and purchase/lease documents should be
  • Insurance documents. Keep the most current copies of your insurance policies in a dedicated spot. As most policies are renewed annually, you can shred past year’s documents as
  • Home improvement documentation. If you put on a new roof, finished the basement, or put on an addition, your home value can change! Keep those receipts for work you had done on your house until you sell the
  • Medical bills. Keep them up to a year, especially if the bill is disputed. Paper copies of medical insurance disputes are always helpful if you have to note dates of service and payments. Shred them when you’re
  • Bank statements. If you still get these delivered in the mail (and you often can sign up for electronic statements with your bank), keep them up to a year in case you need to use them for tax purposes. Then you can shred

Fun fact. You can choose electronic statements on most notices nowadays, like bank and credit card statements, utility bills and even healthcare notices. Reduce the amount of paper you receive by talking to your provider about changing your preferences — they’ll save on the postage, too!

Recycle It:

  • Kids’ art. Feel free to keep your favorites, but any parent who has a young artist knows that the piles of doodles can get extreme. Moms and dads both note that they recycle the not-so-masterpieces on occasion so that the art collection doesn’t get too out of control. Want to save it all? Try taking a quick digital photo of the doodle and then recycle the
  • Phone books. Even if you don’t use a phone book, you might still get one at your home address. (Don’t want it, you can choose to opt out.) Check with your local recycling rules, but most phone books can be recycled in curbside pickups.
  • Magazines, catalogues and newspapers. You have a huge amount of these around the house. If you’re not enjoying them, or they’re obsolete, feel free to recycle. Worried about privacy? Cut out or tear the address portion from the mailing and shred it separately. You don’t need to remove stickers or staples to recycle paper items like these!

Fun fact. Americans use 68 million trees per year for their paper use, according to the EPA.