How long do I need to keep this stuff?

I have suddenly realized that I have probably severral hundred pounds of paper in various filing cabinets. It would sure be nice to shred most or all of it.

I have heard that you need to keep tax returns and related receipts for 7 years (don’t know if that’s true)

What about bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills, brokerage statements, credit card receipts, etc.?

It seems like keeping a year of bank/brokerage statements makes sense – but is that enough?

Utility bills? Is there any reason to keep any but the most recent (and maybe a final indicating full payment if you close an account)

I suppose I could scan a bunch of stuff and store it digitally, but that’s too geeky and too much of a hassle.


The IRS normally will require you to have 3 years of tax-related records if you are audited. That includes any document with data that ends up in your tax return–W-2 forms, mortgage payment records, medical expenses, etc. However, if you are being investigated for fraud, then it goes back 7 years. (This limit may be due to a statute of limitations for tax fraud; I don’t know.)

Beyond that, there are no legal requirements to keep anything else. You might keep receipts in the case of products still under warranty where you need proof of purchase to make a claim. Throw out most everything else. But I will say that once in a blue moon you need to find something, and you usually need it the day after the trash men came and took it away :slight_smile: I keep cancelled checks almost forever but they don’t take up much space, and I write very few checks since I got a debit card years ago.

The only reason to keep utility bills at all is if you want to sell your home and show the costs to prospective buyers. One year is plenty.

Aside from tax records, you just have to decide how likely you are to ever want to look at this stuff again.

However long you keep it, when you get rid of it do so by shredding or burning. Don’t just throw it away intact.

Just to add what others have posted: you should hang on to end-of-the-year (EOY) brokerage statements for as long as you still own the shares that first appear on them, and for at least three years after you sell them. In other words, if you bought 100 shares of XYZ Corp. in June, 1975, your 1975 EOY statement should list that purchase. When you sell the shares, you’ll need to know what you paid for them (to figure the capital gain), and if audited, you’ll need to able to show the IRS something to back up your figures. And if you bought the shares in 1975, and sold them in 2002, you should hang on to the 1975 statement until 2005, 3 years after you filed the tax return that includes the capital gain from those shares.

This is especially true if you’ve changed brokerage firms, since if you’re no longer a client of your old brokerage firm, they might be a little slow about digging up the info for you if you didn’t keep your own copies. Even your current brokerage might find it hard to lay their hands on records that are more than a few years old; it could be expensive and time-consuming to get them.

If you’ve done any substantial amount of trading, it’s probably easiest simply to keep all your EOY brokerage statements, and let your executor pitch them after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.