What files do I really need hard copies of?
July 30, 2021 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to dramatically downsize my filing cabinets by digitizing and shredding paper files. But I do not have a solid understanding of what, if anything, I need to keep an actual hard copy of.

I will obviously keep car titles, social security cards, and passports. But what else do I need a hard copy of?

Is there any situation that would require original paper receipts for tax deductions, or are scans good enough?

What about home purchase and mortgage documents? Do I need the originals of those, or can I shred them?

What other things should I consider holding on to hard copies of?
posted by primethyme to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Vaccination records might be a useful addition.
posted by SPrintF at 1:25 PM on July 30, 2021

Birth certificate.

Your will, also.

Also, I refinanced this condo and at closing they wanted every document from the closing when I originally bought it.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:38 PM on July 30, 2021

I keep paper copies of the following:

Personal stuff:
- Passports
- SSN cards
- Birth certificates
- Marriage license
- Citizenship documentation
- College diplomas
- Kids' annual medical forms
- Pet records
- Copy of will
- An 'if I die' letter for my spouse so she can find everything in the event I die suddenly (passwords etc.)

Proof of ownership:
- Car titles (+boat or whatever other assets)
- Mortgage docs

Financial info:
- One recent statement for every account (I purge these once a year when I do my taxes)
- Full tax returns for 7 years

The above fits into 2 file storage boxes for our family, but YMMV.
posted by widdershins at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So, tax returns are actually one of the things I’m struggling with. They are hundreds of pages. Our CPA sends them to us electronically. And then I print and file them. Why do I need to keep 7 years of printouts of a pdf my CPA sent me (and I still have on my computer)?
posted by primethyme at 8:59 PM on July 30, 2021

You absolutely do not need paper copies of tax returns if you have electronic copies. My CPA doesnt even send hard copies to me. You can always print them later if for some reason you get audited. Those arent the originals anyway if you mailed them, and most people e-file, so there arent even real originals to keep.

You dont need to keep copies of anything an institution or company archives for you: bank statements, medical records, paystubs, etc. No one will ask for your original diploma. Keep it for sentimental reasons if you want, but proof of attendance is done by submitting your transcripts, which your school archives for you and will send upon request.

The only things you need on paper are things that have certified seals or are required to have an ink signature to be valid. So passport, birth and marriage certificates, your will, SS card, property and vehicle titles, and deeds. I have one slim folder in a fireproof safe with these things. For the rest, I have an external hard drive (also in the safe) and backups of that on Google Drive.
posted by ananci at 9:19 AM on July 31, 2021

Best answer: You should do your own reading, but my understanding has always been that good quality scans of original documents (or the original, if they started as electronic) are perfectly fine by the IRS.

A quick Google turns up IRS Publication 583 which says that businesses can destroy originals so long as copies are stored in a compliant electronic storage system, and refers to Revenue Procedure 97-22 as the document that spells out what a compliant system does.

To my untrained eye, it looks like saving the electronic documents, giving them good filenames and folder organization, and storing them where only authorized people can access them and records can't be accidentally modified/deleted is probably a compliant system.
posted by yuwtze at 9:19 AM on July 31, 2021

Best answer: Is there any situation that would require original paper receipts for tax deductions, or are scans good enough?

My CPA has told me as long as I keep the digital scans organized there is no need to keep originals. I am a freelancer so I have a looooot of paper receipts. I believe hypothetically the IRS could go back 7 years in an audit if they think there is wrongdoing/fraud, but their own guidance says copies of individual receipts need to be kept for 3 years and beyond that your tax returns/financial statements are enough proof. You should of course ask your own advisor what requirements you need to meet.

I use Adobe Scan on my phone to turn receipts into PDFs, then I email them to filingcabinet@mybusiness.com. This creates two copies in the cloud (one in my Adobe CC account, one in my email provider's server). I also use EDMS software that auto-magically pulls all the attachments from that email account and makes them text-searchable easily from a web interface. I like having multiple ways to search for things when I need to find something, and being able to do simple stuff like filter all my receipts by email date range is really useful.

My system is pretty low effort but it's way more organized than my former paper based one!
posted by bradbane at 11:40 AM on July 31, 2021

Definitely keep originals of your estate plan. Some states still require original wills to be filed with the courts after you pass.
posted by freshwater at 2:38 PM on August 2, 2021

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