With proper preparation you can leave your home immediately in case of a fire or natural disaster with everything needed to quickly rebuild your financial life. Susan Dench, author of The Lifeguard Personal Document Organization System, gives some pointers on personal document management.
Tornadoes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes happen every year and usually residents in the areas where these natural disasters occur don’t have long to evacuate their homes. Emergency officials say that already stressed victims often arrive at shelters with papers hastily thrown into boxes, which aren’t allowed in due to space restrictions.
And those are the lucky ones. More often, residents leave with nothing and are left struggling with both rebuilding their homes and picking up the pieces of their financial lives in order to move forward.
Susan Dench, author of The Lifeguard Personal Document Organization System, says there is a better way. Her recommendations for personal document management:
• Buy a shredder. Identity theft is on the rise and as you sort through what you need to keep and what can go, you’ll want to destroy all identifying papers.
• Rent a safe deposit box (preferable) or purchase a fire-proof and/or water-proof box or safe for your home.
Sort your documents into two piles: One to shred and one to keep in your files.
• Monthly Documents: Keep your monthly investment account statements and paychecks until you can check them against your W-2 and 1099 forms. Unless they are needed for business and/or tax purposes, any credit card statements, bills and banking statements over one year old can be shredded as well.
• Everything Else: Only keep the most current copy of legal documents, insurance policies, annual Social Security statements and all other legal documents. Throw out anything that is outdated or pertains to something you no longer need.
• Tax Documents: Keep your returns and supporting documents from the last seven years. The IRS has three years to audit you for good-faith errors, and six years if there’s reason to believe you underreported your income by more than 25%. After that, you can only be audited for filing a fraudulent return, or not filing one at all. (Fall into either category? Better keep those papers.) IRS Publication 552 details all the different documents taxpayers may want to keep for tax purposes. Keep anything you’ll need to file your next tax return.
• Vital Documents: Passports, marriage, birth, adoption and naturalization certificates, Social Security cards, wills, deeds, vehicle titles, insurance policies, stock certificates, photocopies of your driver’s license, insurance cards and credit cards should be in that safe-deposit box or fireproof/waterproof box.
• Evidence of Possessions: It’s also good to have a written or even better, photographic or video record of the contents of your home.
• Copy and Scan: Scan all vital documents to go on a CD, with a copy going to a family member in another location and to your lawyer. Do the same with your photographic and video records.
Remember that while many of your records may be online, you will still want to keep paper records of account numbers and information to quickly contact companies should you not have access to a computer right away.