How Long Should You Keep Your Bank Statements?
With all of the financial documents that arrive in the mail each week, it doesn’t take long to start a paper trail. You don’t want to ignore the bank and credit card statements, bills and correspondence you receive. That’s how you miss an important deadline.
You also don’t want to keep everything. That’s how you end up with too much clutter. But which records should you keep and which can you get rid of?
Stop wondering how long to keep bank statements and other important documents. Here’s a guide to help you decide what to do.
How Long Should You Keep Old Bank Statements?
Keeping track of the paperwork that enters your home can become overwhelming if you’re not sure what to do with everything. How far back to keep bank statements and other financial documents depends on the document and how you use it.
Bank and Credit Card Statements
Keep statements for all of your bank accounts and credit cards for at least one year. If you go paperless, you should be able to access these records from the bank, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a digital copy of your statements in a secure location.
Banks are required by federal law to keep records for five years. Check with your bank for specific details about how to access your old statements.
How Long To Keep Bank Statements for the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service has between three and seven years to audit you if it suspects you made an error on your tax return. To be on the safe side, keep a copy of your tax return for at least seven years. You also should keep supporting tax documentation such as bank statements for that length of time. This includes the following records:
- W-2 forms
- 1099 forms
- Bank and brokerage statements that support your tax return
- Tuition payments
- Charitable donations
- Health Savings Accounts contributions
- Medical expenses
Keep canceled checks for one year unless you need them for tax purposes. Refer to them when you reconcile your accounts each month so you know what has cleared. If your bank does not return your canceled checks, you can request a copy for up to five years.
In most cases, you should keep the stubs of your bill payments for at least one month before tossing them. The exception is when you need a copy of the bill for tax purposes. For example, if you take a utility deduction for your home office, you need to keep a copy of the bills for at least three years.
How To Keep or Dispose of Bank Statements Properly
It’s not enough to know how long to keep bank account statements. You also need to know how to properly keep or dispose of bank statements and other financial documents. It’s important to protect the personal and financial information printed on the statements.
Here are four options for storing these documents:
When you store documents online — in “the cloud” — they stay on an external server. You can view these documents from any device connected to the internet. No matter where you are, you have access to your files. It’s a convenient option, but problems can arise if the server is hacked or goes down.
In most cases, cloud storage is secure. The servers storing your information are typically located in warehouses with limited access. Companies monitor their security policies, implement firewalls and encrypt data to keep it protected.
Some people like the security of knowing they have paper copies on hand. They’re easy to access when you need them. You don’t need internet access to read them. On the other hand, a paper copy is gone forever if you lose it.
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Store paper copies in a fireproof box or file cabinet. For additional security, choose a container that locks so you can keep your papers hidden from snooping eyes.
Safes and Lockboxes
Important paper documents should be kept permanently in secure, waterproof and fireproof storage containers such as a safe, lockbox or safe deposit box. Replacing these documents can be time-consuming and costly, so it makes sense to protect them. In addition to bank statements, consider putting the following documents in a safe or lockbox:
- Birth, marriage and death certificates
- College transcripts and diplomas
- Divorce decrees
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage loan agreements
- Pension and retirement documents
- Social Security cards
- Stock agreements
- Tax returns
You can store copies of your documents on your own hard drive. This may be on a computer or an external hard drive that you can easily access. You can scan or take pictures of your paper documents and convert them into digital files to keep as a backup.
If you choose to store your files digitally, place a password on the hard drive. This prevents someone from accessing the files if the hard drive is lost or stolen.
For Added Security
Consider using a combination of these storage methods. For example, you can scan your important papers and store them on an external hard drive. Keep the original paper documents in a lockbox or safe deposit box.
Discarding Documents: How Long You Should Keep Bills Before Shredding
When it’s time to get rid of documents, don’t toss them in the trash. Identity thieves may be able to find your sensitive information if you throw away the papers intact.
Instead, invest in a shredder. Use it to destroy junk mail and documents that contain your personal information, including bills and bank statements. You also can use it to cut up old credit, debit and identification cards, if your shredder can accommodate plastic.
Keeping Documents: Key Takeaways
It’s important to know which documents you need to keep and which you can throw away. You’ll keep clutter at bay and have access to the financial information you need when you need it.
When deciding how to store your documents, consider accessibility and security. You should be able to get your documents when you need them and protect them from falling into the wrong hands.
Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.
- Bank of America. "How Long to Keep Important Documents Before Shredding Them."
- HelpWithMYBank.gov. "How Long Must a Bank Keep Canceled Checks?"
- Bank of America. "What Documents Do You Need To Do Your Taxes."
- Norton. "Cloud Security: How Secure Is Cloud Data?"
- Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection. "Guidelines for Shredding and Saving Personal Documents."
- Washington State Office of the Attorney General. "What to Shred."