Ask LH: Which Paperwork Do I Need To Keep?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m trying to declutter our house and one thing that constantly makes a mess is bills, receipts and bank statements. I’ve gone paperless in most cases, but part of me still feels I need hard copies of certain things. Is there some kind of list I can go by for things I really should keep paper copies of (say for legal or tax reasons)? How long should I keep these things? Will scans of the original do in some cases? Thanks, Fretting Over Files

Picture: Liz

Dear FOF,

We get asked this question a lot, so let’s start with the most important point: for tax and legal purposes, scanned records are absolutely fine. As the Australian Taxation Office explains very clearly on its web site:

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.

The same goes for receipts that you’re keeping in case you need to make a refund or warranty claim: scans are fine.

In terms of how long you need to keep documents, the minimum period quoted by the ATO is five years (from the date you receive a notice of assessment for individuals, or from when transactions are completed). Given that electronic storage takes up close to no room, there’s no reason why you would get rid of them after that period.

So which documents are still worth keeping paper copies of? These are the obvious candidates:

  • Documents related to your identity: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, adoption papers, citizenship and visa papers
  • Documents related to education: Degrees, transcripts, trade qualifications
  • Documents related to major purchases: Property title deeds, share certificates, vehicle registration papers

Note that it’s definitely worth having scanned copies of these for backup, even though you’re hanging on to the paper originals. If readers have suggestions for other additions to this list, let’s hear them in the comments.


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