SMEAD offers a great variety of organization products. We found their article on "Guidelines for Records Retention" to be a valuable reference, so we would like to share it with you:
While tackling that big pile of "here's my life" records, the question is: How do I know if I need to keep it? The yearly “file purge” is a sensitive (and somewhat scary) issue for many, because there could be harsh consequences if you toss something that you should have kept. These are general-purpose records retention guidelines. If you have unusual or extenuating circumstances in your life please check with your accountant or attorney before pitching any important legal, business, or financial paperwork.The following guidelines will explain how long you are required to retain legal and financial records.
Records Retention Guideline # 1: Some items should never be thrown out
This is because these items would be hard to replace and you may be asked to provide them later in life. I suggest storing these “permanent records” in an expanding file or wallet – preferably in a fire safe or safe deposit box:
Records Retention Guideline #2: Business records need a permanent file
Businesses are held accountable to a much stricter set of rules than individuals. To complicate matters further, many industries (healthcare, insurance, law, etc.) set their own legal standards, so be sure to ask your professional association for their policies. In addition to the items listed above, all companies should create permanent files for:
Records Retention Guideline #3: Keep tax records for 6 years
The IRS may go back 6 years to audit your tax returns for errors or incorrectly claimed deductions – so it’s important that you keep all tax-related documents for that length of time, including:
Records Retention Guideline #4: Keep everyday paperwork for 3 years
It’s rare that anyone is going to want to see an electric bill or credit card statement dating back more than a year. But you may choose to keep the following NON-TAX-RELATED items for up to 3 years for internal use:
Records Retention Guideline # 5: Some papers don’t fit easily into categories
And then there are always those “weird” papers that don’t fit into any of these categories. You should retain these records according to the following guidelines:
Records Retention Guideline # 6: Organization is valuable
These documents can be removed from your active filing system once the current year has passed. Organize them using color-coded file folders or wallets for each category of paperwork. Use archive quality, acid-free or antimicrobial filing supplies to prevent damage to the files. Store your archived files by year in banker’s boxes, with one label for the year and another showing the destruct date – then each year, simply shred those items that have come due. With these records retention guidelines file purging isn’t actually as scary as it seems!