Legally, someone can look through your trash and gather anything desired; it’s called “dumpster diving.” But it’s against the law to use any information gathered to commit fraud. The best way to keep someone from using your information to steal your money or identity is to regularly shred your critical documents.
What should you shred?
You should shred anything with your account number, birth date, signature, or Social Security number. Here’s a quick list of items to shred after you no longer need them:
- Expired credit or debit cards
- Account statements (for any account you have)
- Paycheck stubs
- Medical records
- Credit report
- Pre-approved or pre-selected credit offers
- Tax forms and documents
- Canceled or voided checks
- Travel itineraries and documents (including luggage tags)
While this is not a complete list, it gives you an idea of the things you should consider shredding to keep your personal information safe and secure.
How long should you keep documents?
You’ll need to keep some documents for several years, while others you can shred almost immediately. Here’s a helpful guide for your filing system (whether for your business or personal finances):
- Tax Records. The IRS can audit you for several years after you’ve filed your taxes — up to six years in some instances. As a rule of thumb, you should keep any tax-related documents for at least seven years to be safe.
- Property Records. Homeowners should keep documents related to home purchases for as long as you own the home. It’s good to keep a physical copy of your deed, title and mortgage documents on hand. And if you’re renting, file your rental agreement until you’ve moved out and received your security deposit.
- Loan Documents. You should keep any loan document you receive until you’ve repaid the loan.
- Account Statements. Hold on to any account statement for at least a year; however, if you use eStatements, you don’t need to keep a hard copy as they are digitally stored for you.
- Paycheck Stubs. Keep a copy of your paycheck stub filed until you get your W-2 form. Keep the receipt if you use direct deposit.
- Credit Card Receipts and Statements. Keep all credit card receipts (whether a hard copy or digital copy) until you get your monthly statement. After you compare your receipts to your statement for accuracy, go ahead, tear up your receipts and shred your statement.
How can you shred essential documents?
If you don’t have a shredder at your home or office, there are other options to consider. Most financial institutions offer “free shredding days.” Take advantage of these special days. Additionally, you can pay a nominal fee at many postal stores to secure and shred your documents.
Take the steps necessary to ensure your personal and financial information is protected and secure. The more diligent you are today, the less likely you’ll become a victim of fraud in the future.