Ask LH: When Can I Throw Out My Bank Statements?

Hi Lifehacker, How long I should keep my bank statements for? I don't work and have been on a disability pension for six years due to cancer. So I decided I should have a big bonfire and burn the lot! Can I do that? Thanks, Former Hoarder

Fire picture from Shutterstock

Dear FH,

The main reason most people to retain bank statements (or other financial records) is for tax purposes. As we've pointed out before, the basic rule the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) applies for individuals is that you must retain records for five years after submitting your tax return. Bank statements will contain details of interest earned, so that's the main principle that applies.

In your specific situation, you possibly aren't earning enough to actually submit a tax return each year -- but that depends on whether you have superannuation, investments or other funds relating to your pension. The five-year guidelines is still a good rule of thumb here.

We'd be inclined to suggest scanning your documents and keeping permanent electronic copies, which take up no space. However, once that five-year period passes, you don't need to retain them from a legal standpoint. If you do decide to burn them, make sure you do so safely -- we think a shredder would be less risky!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    How long do banks keep your records for..?
    If they are obligated to keep them, then you should be able to retrieve them for tax purposes.. No..?

      Most banks generally charge a fee for providing archived copies of statements.

        Yes they do, but that doesn't answer my questions..?
        Besides, a small fee to get your records seems like a more secure way to store them to me, and you may never actually need to access them as a bulk document. Online statements serve for day to day purposes..! :)

    Just logged into my commbank and I can retrieve statements online / download in PDF for up to 7 years. I have not had paper statements in years as it just takes up space. If I need a copy to apply for something or proof of income, just print out a few copies.

    EDIT: Also FREE, there is no fee for those. Anything older I'm assuming there is a fee.

    Last edited 05/08/14 9:50 am

    Or you can just scan them the day you get them and shred them. From the ATO website:

    Documents that you are required to keep can be in written or electronic form. If you make paper or electronic copies they must be a true and clear reproduction of the original.We recommend that if you store your records electronically you make a backup copy to ensure the evidence is easily accessible if the original becomes inaccessible or unreadable – for example, where a hard drive is corrupted.

    https://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/lodging-your-tax-return/in-detail/record-keeping/keeping-your-tax-records/?page=6#Electronic_records

    Also to FH - don't forget to check with your council before your bonfire night, and have a great time of it; it's always wonderful to lose burdens like this one.

    (edit for formatting and clarity)

    Last edited 05/08/14 12:20 pm

    My bank, St George, only guarantees to keep online statements for two years, though I've managed to find some going back five years. To be on the safe side, I download all my statements annually. Also, for an investment of $46, I use PDF Xchange Pro to assemble them into a single file, ordered by account and statement number. Sure beats paper.

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