Paper battles – How long to retain important documents

Next week is my birthday and I love looking forward to it. It’s my special day and this year, I’m giving myself a special present. Instead of continuing to be brought down by my stuff, unfulfilling activities and draining energy vampires, I’m starting my new year already. I’m removing unnecessary clutter from my own life!

For me, keeping paper under control is a huge undertaking. Despite aiming to save as much electronically, there’s a constant battle and questions run through my mind: “Do I need to keep a paper copy?” or “How long do I need to keep this for?” or “Can this go?”

In the UAE, record retention guidelines are being established for individuals. It’s best to also check the guidelines in your home countries. Here are some general guidelines:

Document Retention Time
Official papers like birth certificate, family tree/family book, marriage licence, divorce papers and will. Keep these in a safety, fire-resistant box. An entire life
Annual social security statements. Upon receipt of the current statement, check that the amounts match last year’s basis for calculations. Compare your end of year income and tax certificate (e.g. Lohnsteuerbescheinigung in Germany, P60 in the UK or W-2 in the US) with the social security statement. If the numbers don’t match, you’ll need to get it corrected as soon as possible. An entire life
Medical records. The additional background information can allow doctors to link health issues and treat them more effectively. An entire life
School records, university degrees, reference letters, training certificates. They show how you’ve developed yourself professionally and may be required for future courses. Till retirement
Payslips Until you got your end of year income statement
Employment contracts, insurance policies and other contractual documents As long as they are valid
Home related documents like lease/mortgage and renovation receipts As long as you live in it or own it
Tax files and supporting documents Depending the country’s regulations:4 years in Germany15-22 months in the UK (6 years if self-employed), depending on your submission date3 years in US, 6-7 years for certain cases outlined by the IRS
Receipts 1 month or once validated against your bank/credit card statement
Receipts for warranty purposes Until warranty expires
Bank statements 4 years in Germany
Investment statements Until you got your end of year statement
Court rulings Depending on country’s jurisdiction:30 years in Germany

Your personal details should not be visible to anyone going through your rubbish. Identity theft is becoming a bigger and bigger issue globally.

Before you throw it all out, shred it! If there’s a lot of paper and you’re feeling overwhelmed, take 10 minutes every day till you’ve shredded all documents. Alternatively, Shred-It in Dubai offers their support for larger projects.

What are you giving yourself this weekend? Some more space after having shredded no longer needed documents?

Until next time,

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