Get Organized: Maintaining Your Personal Records

February, 2024

An important part of managing your personal finances is keeping your financial records organized. Whether it’s a monthly bill to show proof of residency or a Social Security card for wage reporting purposes, there may be times when you need to locate a financial record or document, and you’ll need to locate it relatively quickly. By taking the time to clear out and organize your financial records, you’ll be able to find what you need exactly when you need it.

What should you keep?

If you tend to keep stuff because you “might need it someday,” your home office is likely filled with nonessential documents. One of the first steps in determining what records to keep is to ask yourself, “Why do I need to keep this?”

Documents you should keep are likely those that are difficult to obtain, such as:

  • Tax Returns
  • Legal Contracts
  • Birth Certificates
  • Insurance Claims
  • Proof of Identity

On the other hand, if you have documents and records that are easily duplicated elsewhere, such as online banking and credit card statements, you do not need to keep paper copies of the same information.

How long should you keep records?

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to keep financial records and documents only if necessary. For example, you may want to keep ATM and credit card receipts only temporarily, until you’ve reconciled them with your bank and/or credit card statement. On the other hand, if a document is legal in nature and/or difficult to replace, you’ll want to keep it for a longer period or even indefinitely.

Some financial records may have more specific timetables. The IRS generally recommends that taxpayers keep federal tax returns and supporting documentation for a minimum of three years up to seven years after the date of filing. Certain circumstances may even warrant keeping your tax records indefinitely.

Below are some example recommendations on how long to keep specific documents:

Keep in mind that the above chart is a general guideline, and your personal circumstances may warrant keeping documents for a shorter or longer time period.

Where should you keep personal documents?

You could go the traditional route and use labeled folders in a filing cabinet. More important documents should be kept in a more secure place such as a fire-resistant file cabinet, safe, or safety deposit box at a bank. Keep in mind these documents should be easily accessible, and some storage options may not provide easy access. If space is tight and you want to reduce clutter, you may consider electronic storage or cloud storage services. If you use cloud storage, make sure to use a reliable company that has a good reputation and offers automatic backup and technical support.

 Creating your personal document locator

Another good option for organizing your financial records is to create a personal document locator, which is simply a detailed list of where you have stored your financial records. This list can be referenced whenever you are trying to locate a specific document and is a great tool for loved ones when locating financial records in the event of an emergency.

Use this pdf to create your own Personal Document Checklist.


For informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as specific investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice. Certain information is based upon third party data which may become outdated or otherwise superseded without notice. Third party information is deemed to be reliable, but its accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) nor any other federal or state agency have approved, determined the accuracy, or confirmed the adequacy of this article.