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Organizing your financial records: 6 steps

Explore strategies to efficiently organize, retain and dispose of important financial documents.

Organizing your financial life begins with getting your records in order. But managing the constant flow of new documents, while also retaining the old, can feel overwhelming. Left unattended, pay stubs, financial statements and tax forms can quickly pile up. 

Thankfully, there are practices to help you manage these sensitive files efficiently and securely.

Working with an Ameriprise financial advisor gives you access to digital tools and safe document storage to help simplify record keeping. Here are steps to help organize your financial records, so you can feel more confident about your financial life: 

In this article:

  1. Gather your records 
  2. Audit and dispose of outdated paper documents 
  3. Decide where (and how) to store your records 
  4. Create a filing system that works for you
  5. Make a list of accounts and passwords
  6. Review and purge your records annually
  7. Questions to discuss with your Ameriprise financial advisor

1. Gather your records 

The first step to getting organized is gathering all your financial documents in one place to account for the breadth of records you’ve generated in the past and how often you receive them. Locate paperwork stored in physical or digital files, email or paper inboxes or other areas.

Here are a few documents to look for:

  • Tax statements / returns
  • Retirement plan and investment statements
  • Mortgage and personal property records
  • Insurance policies
  • Bills
  • Receipts
  • Financial account statements
  • Checks
  • Pay stubs
  • Employee benefits
  • Estate planning documents

2. Audit and dispose of outdated paper documents

While there will be numerous records you’ll need to retain, there are also likely many you’ll be able to discard. Remember to shred any documents containing account numbers, birth dates, Social Security numbers, or other potentially identifying information before you dispose of them. As you review your paper documents, consider if you can access these documents online or if electronic delivery is an option. 

General retention guidelines for financial records

A month or less
  • Credit card receipts
  • Bank withdrawal and deposit slips
  • Utility, cable and cell phone bills (unless you are self-employed and need them for tax purposes)
1 year
  • Pay stubs
  • Investment account statements
  • Medical receipts
  • Monthly bank and credit card statements
7 years
  • Tax returns
  • Supporting tax documentation, including W2s, brokerage statements, tuition payments and charitable donation receipts 
  • Annual statements for 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA and other investment accounts
  • Mortgage records and other documents related to the purchase of your home (such as real estate commissions or legal fees) 
  • Legal documents
  • Receipts for home improvements (until you sell the property)
  • Receipts for valuable personal property (to establish value in case of loss or damage)
  • Automobile records (until you no longer own the vehicle)
  • Estate planning documents

3. Decide where (and how) to store your records

It’s easy to misplace documents if they don’t have a designated home, which is especially important for records that you may need on short notice or in an emergency. Consider the best location for your files:

  • Physical records: While a folder or binder might be enough if you have just a few physical documents, you are more likely to need a file box, drawer or cabinet dedicated to your financial records. Consider a fire-resistant file cabinet or safe to store original, hard-to-replace physical records such as a will or power-of-attorney documents.
  • Electronic records: Storing records electronically can save space and provide added security. Many banks and financial institutions offer clients access to records on their sites, which can be convenient and seamless for you. However, if you prefer to have your own copies, bank and credit card statements can be downloaded and saved digitally, while physical papers can be scanned and converted into electronic files. If you store your electronic records locally, remember to create backup files on a portable storage device or on an encrypted cloud storage service. 

Remember: Ameriprise offers digital tools giving you the ability to store, share and review your financial documents in once place, safely and securely.

Advice spotlight

A bank safe deposit box is not ideal for storing important financial documents. While helpful in some circumstances, the box will only be available during bank hours, and only people with an authorized signature on file can access it. In many cases, a fireproof safe at home is a better option for physical items you need to keep secure but also accessible.

4. Create a filing system that works for you

There are many ways to organize files, but the most important factor is creating a system that makes sense to you — and to be consistent with file naming and location. For example, you could organize your system by type of financial document (i.e., estate and legal documents, bills, receipts, tax statements, payment stubs) or by broader life topics and events (i.e., car, house, work, wedding, insurance, etc.).

Whatever system you choose, consider organizing documents within each folder chronologically for easier access when you need them. 

Consider an annual financial review

Reviewing your goal progress and implementing strategies to help improve it can help you stay on track to your financial goals. 

Annual review checklist

5. Make a list of accounts and passwords

In case you ever get locked out of your accounts or if a loved one needs access, create a list of all financial records and accounts, as well as instructions to access them, including usernames, passwords and PINs. Keep the list secure and updated, and share it only with those you trust, such as a spouse, partner or adult child. 

6. Review and purge your records annually

At least once a year, review and discard old and unneeded documents — both physical and digital. For physical records, shred — don’t just recycle — documents, especially those that include any personal information such as account numbers, birth dates or Social Security numbers.

Manage your records effectively and safely 

Organizing your financial records can give you clarity about your current financial situation, making it easier to reach your financial goals. If you have questions about the digital tools Ameriprise offers clients to store important documents, reach out to an Ameriprise financial advisor. 

How can Ameriprise help me keep my files safe and secure? How can I use digital tools at Ameriprise to collaborate securely? What options are available to me at Ameriprise for receiving documents online vs. postal mail?

When you’re ready to reach out to an Ameriprise financial advisor for a complementary consultation, consider bringing these questions to your meeting.

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At Ameriprise, the financial advice we give each of our clients is personalized, based on your goals and no one else's. 

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