This weekend I spent seven hours shoveling out file cabinets!
The accountant, who’s also doing my bookkeeping, would like to get file folders that contain only a few months’ worth of statements and receipts, rather than a pile that requires me to rent a llama to get the junk to her office. These are records that need to be saved for seven years, and so to accommodate her wish, I had to break free some space in the file cabinets in the office and the garage. The current bank account and charge card records reside in my desk file drawers, which have just enough room to hold them. Having to create duplicate files and add them to yet more hanging file folders ain’t gonna work.
The four-drawer garage file cabinet was jammed, and the two-drawer model in the office was also about maxed.
Problem is, I never know what to keep and what is safe to throw out. The ex- (the corporate lawyer, who presumably should know) kept every scrap of paper having to do with finances, jobs, etc. all the way back to before the beginning of our 25-year-long marriage. He kept every check he ever wrote — and in those days that was quite a few. I expect to this day he has some set of bureau drawers packed full of that kind of stuff.
That sort of imprinted me with the importance of keeping anything for which, by the remotest chance, you might be called to account.
All right…so, it was off to the Accountant from Nirvana to get the facts on record storage. Via e-mail, the Q&A:
• What about statements and paperwork for homeowner’s and auto insurance, dating back to the mid-1990s? Can that stuff go? I have a new insurance company. Is there any reason I might be asked to prove that I had a car or house covered in the past? If I have to keep some of it, how much to I need to keep?
Keep for 3 years.
• Statements from old, long-closed investment management accounts? Statements from the 403(b) at GDU, which has now been rolled into my big IRA? Statements for mutual funds that I no longer own? These go back 15 or 20 years. At one point Reimer (investment manager) asked me to come up with evidence for the “cost basis” of some Vanguard account. I don’t even know what a cost basis is, much less how to find it in that mountain of paper. Apparently he wanted to know how much I had originally invested, back in the 1980s. I managed to unearth what I thought was the first statement from Vanguard, but he said that wasn’t it. Do I have to keep all these stacks of old statements?
Keep the December statement only (or whatever month shows a good summary for the entire year).
• Bank and credit union statements for accounts that have been closed? Some date back to the 1990s. Some are more recent.
Save for 7 years.
• How about pay stubs dating back to my first pay period on the job at GDU? At one point my first paycheck came in handy…at retirement, GDU tried to claim I’d started a year later than I really had, thereby trying to screw me out of a year’s worth of RASL credit, to the tune of several thousand dollah (yeah, i know it’s a huge faceless mindless institution, but in my paranoia i do not believe for a minute that there’s no agency behind that kind of thing). Should all those job records be kept? Some of them? Which ones, if only a portion?
Toss them all once you receive your W-2 for that year.
• How about records of annual reviews, student evaluations, CYA notes on formal proceedings with a particularly nasty colleague that could have led to a lawsuit? Don’t know if anything could still come out of it — the student involved has since moved on, and there surely must be some kind of statute of limitations. What on earth to do with THAT pile of paper????
I don’t know about those types of professional issues.
• Evidence of malfeasance on the part of a former chair, notoriously incompetent but now retired? Is there a statute of limitations that might apply to colleagues and former ASU employees who might have a grievance against this woman?
Again, I don’t know about how long you would save these items as they relate to standards that are part of the education profession.
Well, this was all very informative. Also very work-making. It meant I had to go through yards of hanging files, sifting out the December statements for many more investment accounts than I can add on my fingers. The ex- and I divorced in 1992. Over twenty years of obsessive document-filing resided in those cabinets! Two of the banks that issued scores of monthly statements no longer exist. Neither do two or three of the investment firms that managed my money before Stellar came on the scene.
I threw out 18 or 19 years’ worth of home and auto insurance paper, 11/12ths of 21 years’ worth of old investment statements, 14 years’ worth of old bank and credit-card statements, five credit cards from long-defunct accounts, and any number of miscellaneous archaeological finds.
An Internet search brought up the specifics of Arizona’s statutes of limitations. For most civil cases, it’s one year. The litigious student who got into the fight with my scoundrelish former colleague is now a successful real estate agent, so she’s unlikely to file a lawsuit even if she could. Other former colleagues who still have gripes against GDU have missed their chance to include the noxious chair in their complaints. My former secretary, La Morona, whom I managed to force out by riding her to do the job right until she finally gave up and quit, also has missed the boat, which sailed four years ago.
So I threw out everything that had to do with GDU.
Then it was into the house to clear out the office file cabinet.
This thing has fast become overwhelmed by the constant flood of dead trees from Medicare’s ancillary insurance companies. Medigap carriers AND Part D drug plan carriers, it develops, send you a three-page (minimum) document called an “Explanation of Benefits.” These things list Every. Single. Doctor’s appointment; Every. Single. Test you take; Every. Single. Procedure that is done on you; Every. Single. Prescription you fill… every goddamn thing any medico or para-medico can think of to charge you for, world without end, amen.
These documents are well-nigh incomprehensible. Without training in the intricacies of the medical bureaucracy, the only way you could figure out what the things mean is to spend several hours poring over each one, studying every entry, looking up the mysteries on the Internet, and trying to relate the mess to reality. Such as it is.
Look up a question like “how long to save EOBs” and you discover nothing is said about when to dispose with this tsunami of paper. Indeed, at least one federal site implies that you should keep the litter forever by remarking that you can use past EOBs to reconstruct your health history, in the event of some question or catastrophic illness.
Another site states that insurance companies are required to store EOBs electronically and can disgorge copies on demand. Uh huh. So, in theory, you should be able to discard them as soon as you’re sure your medical provider has actually been reimbursed.
But yet another source (sorry, didn’t have time to save URLs while heaving paper) tells you that you should match each EOB with the medical provider’s corresponding bill, checking to be sure that the correct procedures were charged (it’s your job, as it develops, to ride herd on Medicare fraud) and searching for reasons to challenge any denials of coverage. Then you are to clip each EOB to each statement and save them until tax time. If you’ve been sick enough that you might be able to claim a medical deduction, then you have to haul all this stuff out, revisit it, and use it to document your deduction. If not, then you should save it for at least a year.
Why not? Who has anything else to do with their time, eh?
By the way, each EOB conveniently includes your name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. 🙂 Ain’t that grand? So all of those things have to be shredded or burned.
They’re not the only offenders. Bank One and Chase Bank print your credit-card number (!) on their statements along with your name and address; American Express does not.
Shoveling all this crap out resulted in a mountain of paper that completely filled the 18-cubic-foot recycling barrel.
And that was just the stuff that didn’t need to be obliterated. The pile of paper spread all over the floor around a trash can and the dining-room chairs, pictured in the third image above, is all stuff that has to be shredded or burned. Then there’s this stack of paper from a prior, half-baked file-drawer purge, which I just haven’t had time or energy to figure out what to do with:
I was going to burn those five (!) folders full of defunct documents over the winter, but we had no-burn regimes every night when it was cold enough to use the fireplace. And besides, burning paper in the fireplace results in a godawful mess to clean up. And it stinks.
My shredder is already on its last legs. So the options are
a) to pay someone to shred the stuff, which I’m just too ornery to do;
b) to go buy a new shredder (which I probably ought to do, since mine has to be coaxed); or
c) burn the whole pile in the backyard charcoal barbecue.
Undoubtedly, c) is the cheapest option. However, as we scribble it is 105 degrees in the shade. The barbecue is parked in the full sun. Outdoor stuff around the neighborhood is, as you can imagine, quite dry, and that raises a concern about hot ashes floating around.
So, I suppose I’m going to have to get up off my duff and drive to OfficeMax or Costco to get a goddamn shredder.
Lord, how I hate this kind of thing! No wonder my blood pressure is through the freaking roof. Whose isn’t?