What important documents should you be shredding?

No matter where you live or what your line of work is, papers and documents have a tendency to accumulate. Maybe you stay on top of your documents and regularly dispose of bank statements, junk mail and other paperwork that comes to you. Maybe you have a tendency to hold onto that paperwork until your filing cabinet is bursting and you have to start throwing things away.

Whichever style you tend towards (or if you’re somewhere in the middle), it’s important to dispose of these documents correctly. To protect your information and prevent identity theft, it’s important to shred any documents that could leave you vulnerable to criminals.

What documents need to be shredded?

Many of the documents you should be shredding are obvious. Most people know the importance of shredding their bank statements, checks, and credit card bills, for example. However, there are other documents that are often overlooked that should be shredded to maximize your personal security. Whenever possible, shred the following:

  • Any documents related to your bank or finances (bank statements, pay stubs, checks, bills, ATM receipts, investment reports, credit reports).
  • Government documents (tax forms, expired driver’s licenses, any document with a social security number, legal forms, copies of birth certificates or marriage licenses). 
  • Travel information (expired passports and visas, luggage tags, travel itineraries, used transportation tickets).

Essentially, you should be shredding any documents that contain your personal information—the more information it contains, the more important shredding becomes. Even shredding your junk mail can have benefits; if you simply throw away offers for new credit cards, for example, it’s possible for someone to pick that envelope up and apply for a new card in your name.

How do I know what’s worth keeping?

Committing to shredding your paperwork can seem very permanent, particularly if you’re not sure whether you’ll need a certain document again. Fortunately, there are general rules of thumb as to how long certain documents should be kept that can give you peace of mind when you decide to shred.

Never dispose of:

  • Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, or baptismal certificates.
  • Medical records, military records, retirement and pension records, or academic records.
  • Current passports, driver’s license, or social security cards.

Wait before disposing:

  • Bank statements can be shredded after approximately one month.
  • Bills should be shredded as soon as they’ve been paid.
  • Leases should only be shredded after you’ve moved out and received your deposit.
  • Tax documents and investment records should be kept for roughly seven years.
  • Vehicle records should be kept until said vehicle is sold or is no longer in your possession.

By keeping a few simple guidelines in mind and shredding the correct documents, you can improve your personal security and clear some office space at the same time.