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Spring Cleaning: “What Documents Can I Shred?”

Posted on: June 10, 2019

Spring is in full bloom. You know what that means – it’s time for some spring cleaning. The cold weather is over so it’s time to dig up all of the things you have been avoiding in the wintertime and get them done. It’s time for a big home and office clean.

Sorting through the stacks of boxes of old papers and bills can be a tedious task. Just keep in mind how good it is going to feel when you no longer have unnecessary documents overflowing from all corners of your home.

So, with document shredding season upon us, what documents can you shred? What should you keep?

Old and expired IDs. There are some pieces of identification that you should never shred. This includes your birth certificate and SIN card. Old or expired passports, driver’s licenses, health cards, and others, however, should be shredded to lower the risk of identity theft and fraud.

Credit and debit cards. Once you are sure that the account that is hooked up to the credit card or debit card is closed down, and that any remaining funds have been transferred elsewhere, you can shred your cards. This is particularly important in the case of expired cards, as your new active card will have the same credit card number which increases your susceptibility to someone compromising your account. Relatedly, keep ATM withdrawal slips until you have paid your bills and settled your account at the end of the month. After they have been reconciled, those can be thrown in the shredder too.

Medical and banking information.  While these documents are usually useful for showing proof of residence and whatnot, there is no need to hoard decade’s worth of medical and banking documents. The general rule for these types of documents is to discard of them after a year. You should, however, refrain from discarding any documents that may have unfinished business; for example, if you are in the process of resolving an insurance dispute.

Tax information and documents. You can also shred tax-related documents such as charitable donations that are over 7 years old. If you think that you are at a higher risk of being audited, however, hold on to these documents for a bit longer, just to be safe. You may be at a higher risk of being audited if you sloppily fill out your tax forms, are very wealthy, or have complicated business dealings.

Home purchase and sale. You may shred documents that deal with the purchase or sale of your home six years after the transaction goes through.

Insurance documents. Insurance documents should be kept for the life of the policy, plus five years.

Warranties. Keep warranty documents and receipts until you no longer own the product. There is no point in holding on to these documents after the product is no longer in your possession.

WARNING! DO NOT SHRED: Now that you are right in the thick of your shredding spree, I want to remind you of a few documents that should NOT be discarded. Documents pertaining to major life events – birth, marriage, divorce, death, should be kept forever. Here is a more detailed list:
Birth and death certificates, citizenship documents, pension plan documents, marriage license, business license, vehicle titles, mortgage documents, military discharge papers, wills, living wills, and powers of attorney.

Where do I shred?  There is no shortage of options for where you can shred your documents. You can buy your own personal shredding machine from many stores, including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon. This will allow you to do it at home. Many retail stores, such as Office Depot, Staples, and Iron Mountain Shredding Co. offer secure shredding services, as well. Depending on where you decide to go, you may have to drop off your documents to the store location. Some companies do offer to pick-up your documents so that is a great option too.

By shredding these sensitive documents, you are not only decluttering your life, but also protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud. If you require clarification on specific documents, please reach out to a tax lawyer, estate lawyer, or financial professional.

Happy shredding and happy spring!