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Which Documents Should We Keep a Paper Copy of? Which Documents Can We Scan and Recycle?

By Natalia Lusinski

June 28, 2021


Ever since Tidying Up with Marie Kondo debuted on Netflix in 2019, it seems that a lot of people have taken Kondo’s advice and gone through their belongings, from clothes to books to knickknacks. She advises people to only keep things that “spark joy.” So where do documents fall into the picture? To minimize clutter, can we scan them all and then discard them?

Not so fast.

It’s important to keep the original copies of certain documents forever.

Which documents should we keep a paper copy of forever?

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how difficult it would be to replace the document in question. If you were born in a different country, for instance, it may be difficult — and time-consuming — to get a new copy of your birth certificate. Plus, what if you need a certain document at a moment’s notice? A photocopy alone is not likely to be accepted by whomever needs to see it.

Essential documents to keep the original copy of include: 

  • Academic paperwork: certificates, transcripts, diplomas

  • Adoption paperwork

  • Baptism certificates

  • Birth/citizenship/naturalization certificate

  • Business records: business licenses, payroll records, patents trademarks, employment agreements, and performance reviews 

  • Death certificates

  • Driver’s license

  • House or property deed

  • ID cards

  • Insurance policies: auto, home, life, health, disability, personal liability

  • Investment retirement documents or pension plan

  • Marriage license/certificate & domestic partnership certificate

  • Military records

  • Mortgage documents and home improvement receipts (until you sell the property)

  • Passport or Green card

  • Pet ownership & medical records

  • Power of attorney or health care proxy

  • Separation or divorce paperwork

  • Social security card

  • Tax returns
    Note that you only need to keep supporting documents for three years; sometimes, seven years, so it’s best to check the IRS website or speak to your accountant.

  • Trust or living trust

  • Vaccination,immunization, and medical records (including medication and allergy information)

  • Vehicle title, registration, and loan paperwork

  • Will, or living will

Which documents should we keep a paper copy of for a while about a year before discarding?

Other documents, you should keep for at least a year before getting rid of them. Of course, it’s a good idea to digitize them first. These include items like:

  • Bank statements

  • Medical bills

  • Pay stubs (to check against your W-2)

  • Receipts for high-ticket items, like electronics or jewelry (when in doubt, ask if the original receipt is required)

Which documents can we scan and recycle?

If the document is not essential, it’s safe to say you can recycle it — but not just by throwing it into the recycling bin or ripping it in half.

Rather, for your protection and peace of mind, scan it, then shred it. Investing in a good scanner and shredder will be worth it. Then, each time you open a new paper credit card or bank statement, for example: scan, save then shred.

With identity theft on the rise — according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1.4 million people were victims of it in 2020, more than double compared to 2019 — you don’t want someone to get ahold of your personal information, like your social security number.

So, when in doubt, scan the below before shredding:

  • Receipts (except if an item is still under warranty or if you need the receipt for an insurance or tax reason)

  • Utility and phone bills

  • Credit card bills

  • Credit and debit card statements

  • Debit card and ATM receipts

  • Bank and retirement plan statements

Where should we keep important documents?

When it comes to keeping back-up copies of your must-have and important documents, it’s best to make a few copies and store them in a few different places. You can do this in several ways.

One way is to use encrypted cloud storage and/or an encrypted hard drive rather than an ordinary cloud or unprotected hard drive. Some popular cloud-based storage accounts include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Evernote, and Dropbox. However, to make them secure against hackers, password-protecting your files will help. This is where a password manager will come in handy. 

But to be even more secure, it’s best to encrypt your files first — before uploading them to the cloud — via an encryption service like Boxcryptor or VeraCrypt. For this, you can use a zero-knowledge cloud storage service with built-in encryption, like Sync or pCloud (for Families), wherein you’ll be the only one with the encryption key; not even the cloud service will have access to it.

Using Trustworthy, the Family Operating System®, is an even more efficient solution. Trustworthy keeps your documents and information secure through encryption and provides you with a zero-knowledge cloud storage service. Trustworthy is your one-stop shop when it comes to guiding you and your family through document organization. Plus, if you need help replacing a document, their concierge service can help you with this.

Keeping a copy of your essential documents in a safety deposit box at the bank is another way to keep them safe. Keep in mind that you will only have access to it during bank hours.

Putting copies in water- or fire-resistant bags within a home fireproof safe is smart, as well. For added protection, you may want to explore a wall or floor safe. “Document safes are meant to provide protection from fire, water, and to a degree, theft, for people who wish to keep important belongings safe in an office or at home,” Nick Guy wrote in a Wirecutter article. “They’re best for important documents — such as passports or birth certificates — or small items like hard drives or USB sticks. Most people can find good use for a fireproof safe, whether they want to be ready for travel or major financial transactions or just want to add an extra layer of safety for a drive full of treasured photos.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also suggests backing up important information onto password-protected flash drives or external hard drives and putting them into the safe, too.

Emailing or texting yourself (or anyone) copies of important documents is not recommended, given how your information can be stolen if a hacker gets access to your email account(s) — whether it’s through your computer, iPad, phone, you name it.

As far as which documents you should keep a paper copy of and which ones you can scan and recycle, when in doubt, remember to: scan, shred, save. That way, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re doing your best to protect you and your family, which is the most important thing of all.  

Trustworthy Can Help

When it comes to managing your and your family’s essential documents, it’s important to be as organized as possible — and Trustworthy is here for you and happy to help. 

The Family Operating System's top priority is to make sure you and your loved ones have security and peace of mind, so you’re ready to face any challenges that might come your way.

If you're ready to elevate your family’s information organization, you can get started here, or talk to a team member today.