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Until now I've kept all my bills, but it's too much paper.

Gas, Water, Electricity, telephone, etc. Why is it a good idea to keep them? For how long should I keep them?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Consumerist posted a list of how long to keep bills.

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Nice details. Exactly what I was after. –  d-_-b Nov 3 '10 at 0:37

In general, you don't need to keep bills around for more than a few months. The exceptions are:

  • anything that was itemized on your federal or state income taxes. You want to keep these around for seven years in case of an audit by the IRS

  • brokerage statements buying/selling stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. You need to know how much you bought a stock for when you sell it, to calculate capital gains.

  • information relating to major renovations to your house. This can be used to reduce the gain when you sell.

  • anything relating to a business, again for tax and valuation purposes.

  • When selling a house, the last years worth of utility bills might be useful, to show potential buyers.

However, I get almost all of my recurring bills electronically now. They get saved and backed up. In that case, its easier to just keep everything than to selectively delete stuff. It takes very little space, is easier to find things than in paper files, and is much less hassle when moving than boxes full of paper.

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Your brokerage will send you an itemized list of gains/losses at the end of the year. –  Jim Aug 26 '10 at 13:20
    
Interesting exceptions. I always thought I should keep bills in case of dispute. How about receipts for expensive items like a car? That might be good to keep until you sell the car, no? In case I want to prove how much I bought it for or maybe exporting? –  d-_-b Sep 8 '10 at 4:25
    
Keep Utility bills for 3-6 months (track usage), debt payments for 12 months. –  ChuckCottrill Jan 17 at 21:26

Shred it all. You might want to keep a record going back at most a year, just in case. But just in case of what? What is a good idea is to have an electronic record. It's a good practice to know how your spending changes over time. Beyond that, it's just a fire hazard.

The thing is, I know I'm right in the above paragraph, but I'm a hypocrite: I have years' worth of paper records of all kinds. I need to get rid of it. But I have grown attached. I have trucked this stuff around in move after move. I have a skill at taking good care of useless things. I've even thought of hiring somebody to scan it all in for me, so that I can feel safe shredding all this paper without losing any of the data. But that's insane!

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+1 for admitting your a hypocrite :) Gave me a chuckle as I know I'm a hypocrite in this area too. –  Alex B Aug 26 '10 at 15:08
    
I have recently been scanning and shredding my old financial statements. I bought a Fujitsu Scansnap 1500M, to use with a Mac -- there's also a PC equivalent. It works very nicely, and I organize my documents with a Mac-only PDF library app called Yep, also recommended. This allows me to continue being a digital packrat, without boxes of physical files to lug around. –  dkritz Oct 19 '10 at 3:44

In normal cases you don't need it beyond 3-6 months. Beyond this destroy it.

However in certain cases its required to be kept;

For example if you need to prove that you are legally occupying a place/property and do not have relevant documents, the utility receipts can play a role in establishing that you were occupying a place and using it.

In case you are not originaly a resident by birth, and your citizenship is at dispute, these records help.

More so if the records are not maintained properly by the utitlity companies themsleves as in most developing countries.

In India, these help for many individual who are occupying goverment properties for decades and then resolution is passed that people staying for past 25 yrs now own it, other become illegal and are evicted.

For such cases, you could keep a history record say one per year, for past 5 years, and then one for every 5 year of a particular month ... basically in a systematic way.

Other than that, just junk them.

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I'd imagine you want to keep the utility bills around to dispute any historical billing errors or anomalies for perhaps 6 months to a year.

Beyond that, you always have the financial records of making the payments -- namely, your bank statements.

So what benefit is there in keeping the paper receipts for utility payments around for longer than that? I say shred them, with extreme prejudice -- while wearing black Chuck Norris style.

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I smash mine with power fists while wearing a Vin Diesel style. Is that just as effective or is my identify at risk? –  MrChrister Aug 26 '10 at 15:47
    
If you don't pay bills via the bank, then I guess that evidence is somewhat desired. –  d-_-b Sep 8 '10 at 4:22

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