Saturday, September 16, 2006

Document Retention Rules and de-cluttering

In the interest of decluttering and saving both time and space by throwing out (or destroying) unnecessary documents, I'd like to create a perm posting on her (part of my blog template) listing document retention rules.

If possible, I'd like to request that all readers post as a comment to this blog

  • links to document retention rules
  • add their own rules of thumb

These rules and links should address anything you might normally question whether it should be filed or not.

Thanks so much,



Empty Spaces Inc. said...

well i'm a pack rat - i keep everything.

I have a big filing cabinet thats half empty and I keep everything.

except reciepts. since I pay for everything via credit card, cc statements should be good enough if you record what it is you purchased.

D said...

Publication 552 from the IRS site will help you when deciphering your tax obligations for retaining paperwork.

Have a great day

Loren Bluebear said...

My document retention rules? OK. I have actually had a written document retention policy since about 1983. Prior to that it was ad hoc, but relatively compliant with current practice.

SourceDocuments (cash register receipts, credit card tickets, online purchase orders (printed), cash spent notes): I accumulate these in a standard business envelope over the course of a year. They go into the TaxRelated[year] file. Retention policy: eligible for destruct in 10 years. Note: the destruct policy was invoked in 1977 and again in 2001. Both events were triggered when I moved.

Contracts: cell phone, cable tv, bank, brokerage, ... kinds of disclosure statements, insurance declarations. Retention policy: see SourceDocuments.

Invoices: monthly bills and irregular invoices from contracted vendors: things like telephone, cable tv, electric, LPG, credit cards. Retention policy: See SourceDocuments.

The TaxRelated[year] file: SourceDocuments, Banking and Brokerage statements; securities confirm statements; monthly personal accounting software reports (liquid asset transaction registers (bank (checking, savings, credit card), brokerage, petty cash), month end close cash flow and balance sheet), social security earnings statements (get one yearly, in Feb), credit report, anything I think important to tax related and/or financial stuff. Retention policy: retain indefinitely.

WorkForHireDocuments (where I hire myself out for work): Contracts, specs, progress invoice, (with customer acceptance signoff), lab notebooks, source code (machine readable). Retention Policy: retain indefinitely.

ImportantStuff: This is everything else: legal documents (marriage licenses and divorce decrees, legal disputes (none yet!)), current and expired passports, drivers licenses, employer badges (never surrender an employee badge "I lost it."), real estate purchase/sales documents, vehicle purchase/sales documents, personal journals (things I write "for the record", as self assesment and self improvement, personal financial planning, ...). Retention Policy: retain indefinitely. Location varies.

Lotta stuff? Yes. And it goes back to 1966. However, consider what I looked like (financially, etc.) in 1966, and my document retention policy as it evolved over time, the file for 1966 is less than half an inch. The 2005 file is still 5+ inches thick. The good news is: I have a 48-inch wide 4-drawer lateral file in the garage. There's plenty of room left.

MachineReadableBackups: For vendor supplied or open-source software, do not backup operational installed packages. For recovery rely on re-install. Copy proprietary vendor supplied distribution media to working copy floppy, CD, DVD. Store the OEM materials in secure offsite storage. Use the working copy to install from (for DRM'd or "uncopyable" OEM Media, return it to vendor for refund as unusable). Keep 3 most recent versions. Keep software package media at least 5 years since last use. -- Backup my various home directories first as zipped, encrypted full backups on CD/DVD for local storage at least annually. Also store zipped, encrypted full backups ftp'd to offsite location at the same time as the CD/DVD is made, depending on volatility of the directory. Do differential backups of home directories as zipped, encrypted files ftp'd to offsite storage daily. Keep local mirror of differential backups on external hard drive. Depending on volatility, determine when new full backup is appropriate. Keep 3 generations (CD/DVD, but not on online offsite store (because of cost (80GB online RAID5 (backed up, even(!))offsite storage $15/mo) of full backups, up to 6 sets of differential backup sets, depending on volatility. For databases, specialty format (SubVersion, CVS, ...) data, perform backups and archive using package supplied backup tools to a home directory. For the special case of the encryption key file, keep a hard copy of the master key file in "that other offsite place". Send a zipped, encrypted copy of the master KEK to my successor trustee via email whenever it changes (long story). All of the backup process is fully automated. A restore is tested anytime the automation changes. The restore has acutally been used three times in the last 10 or so years to recover from failed hard drives (twice because of IBM Deskstar disasters. Damn you, IBM) with less than a day's worth of data lost.

Whew! That just about does it. Some details from the written policy and procedures is probably missing, but you get the idea.

Tricia said...

Ever since I was in charge of clearing out my friend's attic after he passed away, I have a greater respect for documents. Many of the documents I found in his attic were old and I took them to the local history archives and they were quite pleased to receive them.

So, I plan on keeping all of our papers. Perhaps they will be a treasure for someone to find 100 years down the road.

Plus, it saves me from wondering what to keep - lol ;)