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DIY Helpful tips: Digging out from under the paper pile

DIY Helpful tips: Digging out from under the paper pile

Fewer things are more frustrating to deal with than piles of paper. Between the mail, school paperwork, taxes, bills, and other paper, keeping track of it all can seem impossible at times. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the paper pile.


If you are drowning in a pile of paper, the first thing to do is to sort through it. Be ruthless. If you're thinking, “but I may need it someday”, that is your cue to get rid of it. Never keep a piece of paper unless there is a specific reason you need it.


Invest in a good shredder. Shred any paper that has identifying information on it, such as names, addresses, or Social Security numbers.
Set up a filing system and determine what papers you need to file. Invest in a good filing cabinet, file folders, and labels.  Decide what categories you need, such as “bills”, “tax returns”, “medical records”, etc. Get a secure personal safe or lock box for important vital records, or use a bank safe-deposit box to store them.


Once you have sorted, purged, and filed your piles of paper, set up a sorting area for the paper that comes into the house.  Go through your papers daily. Throw away papers you don't need. Place any paper that needs to be “acted upon”– such as bills to be paid, permission slips to be signed, or other papers –in an “action file “or “to be done “file.


Make sure you deal with the papers in the action file quickly. Use a reminder for when it's time to pay the bills or sign forms. Make a note on your calendar, or set up a reminder on an electronic calendar. If you do electronic banking, set up an automatic payment for fixed expenses, such as mortgage or rent, so they can be paid on time.


Also, consider getting automatic deposit for pay checks. That way, your pay automatically goes to the bank and it eliminates the need for keeping track of paper checks.


In dealing with your paper clutter, you may ask, what do I need to keep, and for how long? Here are some good rules of thumb for the following items:


Most monthly bills, receipts, and credit card statements can be discarded as soon as they are paid or reconciled with bank statements or other financial records.

Keep yearly policies, such as auto, homeowner's, or renter's insurance, until you receive the new policies, and then get rid of the old ones.
Keep bank and other account statements for about a year.

Make a file for receipts, statements, and other records you will need for your yearly taxes, and save those until your taxes are prepared.

Tax returns should be kept for a minimum of seven years.

Never discard certain vital documents, such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, wills and estate-planning documents, military discharge papers, and other similar items.

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