How Long Should You Keep Receipts & Bills?

Bills and receipts by laptop
Receipts, bills, laptop, and a planner on a cushion. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Paperwork can pile up and lead to clutter and disorganization. Although it may be tempting to trash it all, that approach can lead to expensive results. On the other hand, many people keep a lot more paperwork than necessary or keep it for longer than needed. Knowing what to keep and what to toss can save you time and money.

Forever

Some documents you should keep forever. Keep receipts you get for major purchases, such as jewelry, antiques, cars and collectibles. You will need the receipt to prove the item’s purchase value in case these items are lost, stolen or damaged. Possession of the receipt will expedite any insurance claim.

You should also keep receipts or statements proving contributions to a non-deductible retirement account such as a Roth Individual Retirement Account. This paperwork proves you have already paid tax on the money, which may be needed when it’s time to make a withdrawal.

3 to 7 Years

Keep receipts that support tax deductions for three to seven years. The Internal Revenue Service can randomly audit your return up to three years after the filing date or if it suspects you made an error. That deadline extends to six years if it believes you underreported income by 25 percent or more. Keep receipts or credit card statements that prove charitable donations, expenses and other deductions for at least three years. If you have self-employment income, keep them for seven years.

1 Year or Less

Because most insurance policies, such as those for home, car and life renew annually, maintain the bills for them until the policies renew. Once you get the new policy, you can destroy the old one. Paid utility bills can be discarded after a year. You only need to keep ATM and debit card receipts until you reconcile your bank statement. The same is true for receipts for purchases made on your credit card.

Once you receive the statement and verify the charges, the receipt can be discarded. You can discard a credit card statement once payment is verified on the following statement. However, if any of the charges are for tax-deductible contributions or expenses, you should maintain the statement or original receipt for three to seven years.

File your paycheck stubs until your reconcile them with your annual W-2 form.

Varying

Keep the receipts for items that are covered by warranties, such as major appliances, until the warranty expires. Maintain the title for your vehicles for as long as you own it.

Housing records, specifically receipts that show improvements, should be kept for as long as you own your home plus six years. You can reduce the capital expense, and associated taxes, by itemizing the improvements along with the proof of their costs.

Discarding Receipts And Bills

Shred receipts and bills when discarding them to help reduce the possibility of identity theft. Your credit card and bank statements show your account numbers. If either falls into the wrong hands, you may see unauthorized charges or withdrawals.

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