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While there is much to be said for the minimalism craze and the act of “tidying up,” there are certain items you just have to hold onto (in addition to your favorite concert tee, of course). Even in today’s digital age, it’s still important to have a system for keeping your finances organized. And in some cases, maybe that means going old school and breaking out the file folders. Use this checklist as a reminder of what financial records need to be filed away (and for how long).

1. Decide which storage system works for you

Whichever system you select must fit your style, or you’ll never stick to it. There are essentially three options to choose from: keeping paper files, storing electronic files locally and storing online files in the cloud. Here’s a tip: If you need to track something down during tax season (or at any time), you should know exactly where to look—and be able to find it in one minute or less. Determine where that will be—you’ll be doing your future self a huge favor.

Challenge: If you’ve tossed or shredded important paperwork in a spring cleaning sweep, don’t fret. You should be able to access most statements online or contact customer service for a copy.

2. Electronic files: what to remember

More and more people are adopting an electronic filing system for all the pragmatic reasons you might imagine. They take up less (literal) space. They are easily searchable and they are retrievable away from your home. If you have everything stored electronically (or online), keep a list of account numbers, usernames and passwords locked in a fireproof safe at home.

  • Ninety-two percent of tax returns filed in 2017 were submitted electronically1
  • Experts estimate that data stored in the cloud is actually more protected than on your hard drive.2 Just ensure your passwords are strong and refrain from accessing sensitive accounts when working on public Wi-Fi.

3. Always have backup

For the uber important stuff, you should always have a backup copy kept in another format. If you opt for a paper filing system, save electronic copies (PDFs) to your local computer. If you have electronic statements saved, back them up to the cloud in case something happens to your computer. Just make sure both of your methods are simple and secure.

Challenge: Work to create a backup system for your most important documents.

4. Keep holding on

No matter what your primary and backup systems are, you should keep the following records for as long as they are relevant:

  • Insurance policies (documents issued when a customer opens a policy that details terms, conditions and coverage information) 
    • Homeowners, auto, life, health, etc. 
    • Note: Even if you no longer have the insurance policy, you’ll want to keep for proof of coverage
  • Receipts of major purchases
  • Warranties

The following high-level list breaks down how long you should keep everything else:

Seven years:

  • Brokerage and retirement account statements
  • Tax returns and necessary receipts
  • Income documentation (W2’s, pay stubs, etc.)

 Five years:

  • Mortgage account statements
  • Credit reports
  • Insurance statements (periodic summaries of claims, payments, etc.)
    • homeowners, auto, life, health, etc.

 Three years:

  • Checking and savings account statements
  • Credit card account statements
  • Utility accounts
  • Loan agreements
  • Statements from medical providers

5. Don’t forget to inspire yourself

Keep items top of mind that are part of your journey to financial confidence: documents tracking your net worth, your budget, your short- and long-term financial goals and a list of your values, for starters.

Doesn’t that feel better? Put your feet up and toast your newly organized financial life.

3 Key Takeaways
  1. Your personalized filing system should allow you to find an important document in less than a minute.
  2. Back everything up. In today’s digital age, this is easier than ever. No excuses!
  3. Some items need to be saved in perpetuity; others can be shredded after three, five or seven years.

Challenge yourself

What are you waiting for? The mere act of getting organized is a stress reliever. Keep reading to tackle your next steps—knocking out your budget.

1 “U.S. Taxpayers efiled More Than 128 Million Returns in 2016,” April 26, 2017, efile.com

2 “Should you store your data in the cloud?” April 19, 2016, Malwarebytes

This content is educational in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
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