What You Should Shred
Documents and sensitive information that should be destroyed
In the age of rampant identity theft, any piece of confidential information can be potentially problematic. The safest thing to do when you're throwing out documents is to shred them. A quick and dirty list of the essentials dictates that you should always shred documents that include any of the following:
- Bank Account/Credit Card Numbers
- Social Security Numbers (SSNs)
- Birth Information
There are other documents that are more of a question, especially when it comes to whether or not you should keep it or shred it. If you're not sure, keep a copy in a safe place. Either way, if you're going to throw out any of the following items, shred them instead:
- Tax Documents: You're required to keep tax documents for at least three years after you've filed the return. Then, in most cases, feel free to shred away. That is based on the assumption that you're filing your tax returns properly. The IRS can only audit you for three years after you file, unless the filing was fraudulent, in which case all bets are off.
- Spam Offers: You can get junk mail offers for credit cards, bank cards, memberships and insurance policies that are tempting to just throw away immediately. Don't do it. Look them over and see what information is included in the form. There might be sensitive information, or it could be easy for someone to fill it out in your name.
- Bank/Credit Card Statements: These aren't as common now that so much is available online, but you might still get monthly statements for your accounts or credit cards. These contain a lot of sensitive information and should be shredded once you're sure that the charges are correct and everything has been paid and balanced.
- Pay Stubs: Again, many people get direct deposit now, but if you get physical pay stubs then you only need to keep them a year, or long enough to make sure they match up with your W-2 form.
- Medical Forms: Any records, receipts, bills or forms you get from doctors and hospitals should be kept awhile for record-keeping purposes, especially if you need to dispute an expense later on, or file for insurance purposes. Then shred.
- Cancelled Checks: People can do all sorts of things with stolen checks, cancelled or not. Shred immediately, provided you don't need them for tax deductions. Better yet, have your bank store images of your cancelled checks online before it securely disposes of the actual checks.
- Mortgage/Insurance Information: This is the kind of thing you hold onto for a long time, but if you're sure you're getting rid of it, it's best to shred it.
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