What Documents Should Be Shredded?

Whether you’re a passionate spring cleaner or love safekeeping, there comes a time when you wonder whether that 15-year-old receipt is worth having around. The truth is, we tend to accumulate more documents than we need and even though paperless technology and electronic signatures are now available to most, we still produce an immense amount of paper. Sadly, a lot of it is useless.

Shredding the wrong document, however, may cause you a few headaches and result in a waste of time and money through bureaucratic processes.

So if it is true that regular and wise shredding will save you space and even help prevent identity theft, it is important that you know what documents to shred. Keep reading for the ultimate guide to document shredding.

Why Should I Shred My Documents?

Ideally, you should keep your documents only for the time that is strictly necessary and shred them immediately afterwards. Very few documents must be kept forever, and chances are, a lot of what you have stored in the house should have been destroyed years ago.

In most cases, it is a legal requirement that you shred paperwork that includes certain sensitive information. The relevant laws that include shredding requirements go from the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) to the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), and more.

Shredding your documents will also help protect your privacy and prevent identity theft. Many items that we simply throw away (like bank receipts) should in fact be shredded.

Items That Should Be Shredded

If a piece of paper contains your personal, financial, health, or similarly sensitive information, it should be shredded before being thrown out.

That may cover a lot more than you think, from junk credit card and other financial offers to pharmacy labels. Even that bad draft of your CV and the notes on your next holiday’s travel itinerary.

If you throw a piece of paper in a trash bin, it becomes available for anyone to dig out and use. There is even a Supreme Court ruling confirming that there is no expectation of privacy for trash that is left for collection in an area accessible to the public.

Document Shredding Guide: How Long to Keep Your Documents for

How long should you keep documents for, then? This depends on the type of document and its content. We put together a document shredding timeline for you.

Documents to shred immediately

Here is a list of documents that should be destroyed immediately (among others):

  • ATM and credit card receipts
  • Sales receipts with no warranty
  • Used air tickets
  • Expired credit cards
  • Paid utility bills
  • Paid credit card statements
  • Credit offers
  • Pharmacy labels
  • Junk mail credit card offers

Documents to keep for one year

The following items can be shredded after 1 year:

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Paid, undisputed medical bills

Documents to shred after 7 years

Keep the below items for 7 years:

  • Tax-related receipts
  • Tax-related cancelled checks
  • W-2s
  • Old tax records

Documents that should be kept for a specific time

The right time to shred the below documents depends on specific circumstances:

  • Car titles (keep as long as you own the vehicle)
  • Home deeds (keep as long as you own the house)
  • Disputed bills (keep as long as the issue is resolved)
  • Home improvement receipts (keep until you sell the house and pay capital gain taxes)

Other documents to shred

All the below documents must be shredded. However, the correct time varies greatly and there is no one-fit-all rule:

  • Address labels from junk mail and magazines
  • All discarded copier copies
  • Credit reports and histories
  • Documents containing maiden name
  • Documents containing names, addresses, phone numbers or e-mail addresses
  • Documents relating to investments
  • Documents containing passwords or PIN numbers
  • Driver’s licenses or items with a driver’s license number
  • Drafted documents
  • Education Records
  • Employment records
  • Expired passports and visas
  • Identification cards/badges
  • Legal documents
  • Insurance Information
  • Internal Memos
  • Investment, stock and property transactions
  • Items with a signature
  • Luggage tags
  • Medical and dental records
  • Papers with a Social Security number
  • Payroll Information
  • Pre-approved credit card applications
  • Phone logs
  • Phone messages
  • Purchase orders
  • Receipts with checking account numbers
  • Report cards
  • Resumés or curriculum vitae
  • Tax forms
  • Transcripts
  • Travel itineraries
  • Visitor Logs

Documents to Keep Forever

There are some documents that never expire and you will need throughout your life. These should never be shredded:

What to do if you shred the wrong document

The items listed above should be always kept in a secure place. For example, you should store your birth certificate in your safe at home or in a safe deposit box.

However, if you inadvertently shred or lose them, you can apply for a replacement. This should be done as soon as possible with the relevant authority or entity (for example, you need to order a birth certificate replacement with the Vital Records office of the state where you were born).