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!


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