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Celebrating clutter conquests

November 5, 2015
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

Years ago, when computers were just coming on the scene, the electronics industry excitedly predicted we would soon do away with the endless stacks of paper necessary to do business in our society.

They said that everything would be stored on computers. File cabinets would become obsolete.

Well, as glowing predictions often go, this one quickly faded away. Today, even with computers, tablets and electronic gadgets in every home and business, it seems the paper piles have become even deeper, file cabinets even more packed.

Now that November is here and the year is moving toward its end, I've decided the time has come for me to make a valiant stab at controlling all this paper clutter. In the past, when I tried to tackle this task, I was filled with questions. What do I have to save and what can I get rid of?

In recent months, I've been collecting clippings and financial brochures from various reliable sources in an effort to get some answers to the keep-or-save dilemma.

And, thanks to what I've learned from my resource gathering, here are some common-sense instructions to handling the family's important records.

Among the items that should be kept for a year are paycheck stubs, bank statements, brokerage statements, utility bills and receipts for health care.

Records that should be kept for seven years include the documents you used to support your tax reports. These are items such as W-2s, 1099s and receipts or canceled checks that substantiate deductions.

The Internal Revenue Service has up to three years after you file to audit your taxes, but may actually look back up to six years if there is a suspicion you have underreported income or committed fraud.

Papers that should be kept indefinitely are tax returns (including proof of filing and payment), IRS forms that you filed when making non-deductible contributions to IRAs or Roth conversions, brokerage account annual statements and receipts for capital improvements. In addition, keep receipts for big-ticket purchases for as long as you own the item (this will support any warranty and insurance claims).

These lists make it seem best to keep everything. But, happily, my research indicated it's safe to toss the following: ATM receipts, once recorded; bank deposit slips, once the funds show up in your account; credit card receipts after you get your statement (unless you might return the item or need proof of purchase for a warranty) and credit card statements that do not have a tax-related expense on them.

With these guidelines. I plan to work my way through both my file cabinets as well as my always-waiting "to-be-filed" trays.

In my role as the budget-keeper and paper-tender for the family, I've also developed several habits that have helped me greatly through the years.

When opening the mail each day, I carefully separate any official papers. On these I carefully note the date I've received the piece or packet. That helps me to keep track of the timeline for any paperwork.

No one is eager to sort through the mountains of paper every family deals with. It's a chore only slightly more fun than a visit to the dentist. But reducing that mountain to a molehill is an accomplishment worth celebrating.



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