Consumer Alert: Protect yourself by shredding old files

April 24, 2014 

Each April, Better Business Bureau works with Cintas and Western Records Destruction to offer free shredding to anyone looking to safely and securely dispose of paper. It's an "on-the-house" incentive to spring-clean the filing cabinets, drawers and closets of papers containing information for your eyes only.

Here's a checklist to help you get ready for Saturday's Secure Your ID event, which lasts from 10 a.m. to noon at the Idaho Transportation Department, 3311 W. State St., Boise.

1. Decide what to keep and what not to keep.

Based on guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service, here are four groups of documents:

• Old stuff to keep forever. The bottom line is that some items simply need to be held on to indefinitely - like previous tax returns, retirement account contributions, deeds and mortgage paperwork.

• Old stuff to keep for seven years. The IRS recommends keeping documents anywhere from one to seven years, but to simplify the process I just decided to make it easy: If something is on the retention schedule at all and less than seven years old, it will go in the "keep" pile.

• Current stuff to keep. For the current year's taxes, I need to hold on to everything from the most recent calendar year. However, it won't do me any good to mix it all in with the seven-year pile so it gets its own group.

• Stuff to destroy. Everything else. That happy hour receipt is a great reminder of an afternoon well spent, but poses no real reason to be saved.

2. Sort everything.

If you gather all the papers, make a big pile and follow the four categories, it's easy to stick to what's important.

3. Organize the documents that need to be kept.

This is by far the most complicated part of the process. Start a filing system. Organizing documents by type is a great way to maximize efficiency.

Let's say you have an insurance document, but you're not sure which year it was filed. Create an insurance folder and it's there, somewhere. Each folder is organized chronologically, with the most recent documents in front and the seven-year-old documents in the back. Create six different folders:

• Credit card/purchasing documents.

• Bank documents.

• Investment documents.

• Insurance documents.

• Tax documents.

• Home/residence and personal documents.

4. Shred.

BBB offers two free document shredding events during the year - one right after taxes are due in April and the other during National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October.

5. Be proactive in protecting identities.

You're responsible for keeping your identity secure. This simple guideline for securing your identity is just the start.

A personal shredder can keep up with secure document destruction all year long. You can also find more information on how to protect yourself at BBB.org or BBBhelp.com. BBB periodically sends out email alerts to members about phishing scams that are targeting the area.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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