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Ask Slashdot: How Do You File Paper Documents At Home?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the shred-then-reassemble-of-course dept.

Data Storage 371

swamp boy writes "How do you file paper documents at home? I'm mostly asking about things like monthly paper-based statements that get mailed to you (credit cards, gas cards, medical bills, health insurance explanation of benefits, electricity bill, natural gas bill, water bill, etc.). Do you push to have as many sent electronically as possible? Do you scan the paper documents to store electronically and then shred the paper document? How do you manage and organize the ones stored electronically? I've been doing this the old-fashioned way with manila file folders, but as time goes by I keep thinking that I should opt for digital storage. What works for you?"

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371 comments

Is digitising such a good idea? (4, Insightful)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991258)

If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

To answer original question - I have a big file. Sometimes I prefer having something physical that can be brought out as proof.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991282)

Fireplace!

Keeps me warm and annoys the neighbors!

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991390)

Not true -- many large corporations have scanned and destroyed large collections of legal documents, and their lawyers are fine with it. Electronic copies scanned with an appropriate process are even considered legal by the IRS (see this IRS publication for details, page 9 http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-irbs/irb97-13.pdf )

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991486)

It is however advisable to keep a paper copy of anything that important anyways, just in case the electronic copy gets destroy and whatever backups you have as well. Which can happen. You can also accidentally destroy paper copies, but it's typically less likely, unless you're doing something like mass shredding or your house burns down, typically less common occurrences.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991508)

Yeah, I've more or less never lost a piece of paper ;D

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991536)

Also:

On my computer all my files usually end up on the desktop nowadays, saves and what not.

In real-life? It all ends up on the floor.

I don't know which alternative is better. Atleast the files on my (virtual) desktop doesn't corrupt.

Where are the self-organising file systems? Even more so, where are the self-organising homes?! Wife 1.0 + mom-patch?

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991714)

I don't know which alternative is better.

The floor. Because there the incentive to do something about it is larger.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (4, Insightful)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991436)

If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

Yes, actually, the best copy you have will work. If the opposing party wants to claim that you have modified documents, they will have to come up with actual evidence to that fact. (You are aware, are you not, that paper documents can be forged???)

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991438)

If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

IANAL and all, but a scanned (or faxed) signed contract is a valid legal document, so I don't know why scanned bills would be an issue if (slim chance) you ever needed the history for court or a dispute.

W/r/t several other posts, the question remains "what do you store them for?" if you want to track spending, then you are better off tracking payments made through mint, quickbooks, or a simple spreadsheet. If just to keep them around, then scan into evernote or your computer, or use a shoebox. Or a shredder.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (4, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991510)

IANAL, but I did sit on a jury for a rather long civil trial, and whether paper or electronic, somebody is going to be called to testify to the authenticity and completeness of any piece of evidence that they're wanting to submit. Just because it's paper doesn't mean that it's real and likewise just because it's electronic doesn't mean that it's suspect. I was personally frustrated by the great disparity in terms of opinions of evidence, to the extent that the attorneys couldn't seem to agree whether or not a particular photo was of the same thing they were referring to.

Which is a part of their jobs, particularly for the defense attorney, but it is somewhat annoying to those that have to weigh the evidence.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991468)

How is this any different from getting "paper free" electronic bills and statements and other documents? If you did in fact need to present them as evidence, surely you or your lawyer would ask the original company for a copy of the original statement.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991530)

This point troubles me a great deal. The IRS under normal circumstances has 3 years in which to conduct an audit of your tax forms in the US. But, most banks limit the duration of storing said records typically to a year if you're lucky, and often times even less than that. So, while it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that you've got the records, if those files were to get corrupted after they were destroyed by the bank and before you receive the audit notification, you haven't really any way of actually backing up your claims.

Which is really, why one ought to keep a paper copy, and why banks ought to be required to keep such documents for longer periods of time. And preferably offer the ability to download an entire year's worth of records in a single .zip for easy organization.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

NitroWolf (72977) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991706)

I thought it was 7 years, not 3 years? Has the law changed in the last decade or two? I haven't really kept up with that, since I've been keeping things for 7 years. Would be nice to throw out an additional 4 years worth of crap.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991768)

I thought it was 7 years, not 3 years? Has the law changed in the last decade or two? I haven't really kept up with that, since I've been keeping things for 7 years. Would be nice to throw out an additional 4 years worth of crap.

I think it has always been 3 years normally; 7 if they find evidence of fraud in the past 3.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991740)

Does the bank actually destroy those older records (by law?), or simply move them to archives? My own bank allows me to access certain records going back 18 months, but I'd assumed it was just a limitation they imposed on online access, i.e. if you want older records you'd have to pay a small fee to access them.

Correction. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991748)

YOU have 3 from the original due date file/refile and claim a refund

the IRS has 3 years from the due date, or 3 years from the date you file a return if filed late
UNLESS they suspect fraud... then it is longer

some states already have longer
http://taxes.about.com/od/statetaxes/a/tax-audit-statute-of-limitations-by-state.htm [about.com]

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991484)

If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

What, because paper documents can't be forged?

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991666)

Bills I will trow away once they are payed. Payslips I keep one year and then trow them away as I get an annual one.

If I need proof, I ask for a copy from where it came.

Re:Is digitising such a good idea? (1)

NitroWolf (72977) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991682)

If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

To answer original question - I have a big file. Sometimes I prefer having something physical that can be brought out as proof.

I've never had a problem bringing my printed documents to court. I digitize everything now and I've had to take a few documents to court now and then for various reasons, the judge has never batted an eye. One case involved a contract and it was a digitized copy of the contract, no problems at all.

YMMV of course, but since I see many large businesses digitizing everything, including signed documents and digitized copies of cancelled checks are valid proof I'd say you'd probably be fine.

Indeed... (2)

denzacar (181829) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991726)

Even a photocopied (as in - copied onto a dead tree format) documents will be useless in many cases if you are required to have the original receipt/bill/invoice.

As for filing...
Stick everything into plastic sheet protectors. [amazon.com]
If you need to label them in some way, either attach a post-it from the inside or simply write the label on the sheet protector with a marker.
Put sheet protectors into a binding box or two. [saundersoffice.com]
About once a year go through your binders and throw away the bills you no longer need.

Same procedure is useful for storing warranties, manuals and instructions nobody ever reads (but you start looking for them when something needs fixing/replacing).

paper? in 2011? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991260)

You must be in the United States? In most of the world, such paper bills have been obsolete for at least a decade.

Re:paper? in 2011? (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991398)

moding it down doesn't make it less true.

In a paper shredder... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991262)

It's the only way.

Keep them? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991268)

I keep the absolute minimum amount of paper lying around.

Bills get payed and then shredded. Why keep them? Same for almost every other piece of paper. My yearly insurance policy gets stuck in a binder (and the old one gets shredded). Oh, and I keep the ownership documents for my house. That's it. If everything in my paper 'archive' is 50 pages total I'm being generous.

There is no need to keep all that junk around. In fact, I wouldn't need the paper that I do keep, because if I would ever need it I can have a replacement copy sent.

Re:Keep them? (1)

Tomahawk (1343) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991594)

Ditto. I tend to put some stuff in a drawer in case I need to refer back to it, but every once in a while I clear out the drawer of all the stuff that I never referred back to, which is all of it.

I was lucky that I had a year of household bills, as I did need them recently. Usually you are asked for stuff like bank statements, and you can just ask your bank to send them out when you need them.

I used to file them, (1)

Grand Facade (35180) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991278)

now I just put them in a shoe box....

Then burn or shred them after a year.

Re:I used to file them, (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991428)

Yup; stack 'em up, keep them for a while in case they need to be referred to (never happened yet), destroy 'em when it's clear that they aren't needed.

To be fair, though, maybe the only reason this works is that documents I actually will need to refer to (bank statements, particularly) already come electronically...

shred (1)

stazeii (1148459) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991280)

Almost all of them I can get in digital form anyway, so MOST of them I glance at, then promptly shred. The ones I can't get digitally, I file in a file cabinet as I don't have a good way to digitize them at home (I could do it at work, but it's not that big a deal). How many do I actually file per year? maybe a dozen. Most of them are tax related. All the actual statements for credit cards, etc can all be retrieved digitally from the company.

scanner + evernote (1)

flubus (542347) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991286)

For this very purpose, I switched last year to using evernote, with a scanner for those items I can't yet get electronically. Working well. (Just between you and me, it's all just an excuse for me to use the shredder as often as possible.)

paper (4, Informative)

symf (764314) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991288)

I've found that it's still just easier to file in manila folders by month. I rarely ever need to pull paper documents out anymore, but if I do need them they are there and I've got only one month of stuff to sort through. I tried scanning everything and backing up locally for about two months but dropped that method when crunch time at work rolled around.

folders (4, Informative)

superwiz (655733) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991292)

Hanging folders with labels by category and year. Most categories only need 1 folder per year. At the end of the year, I move them to a "history" storage box and start a new set of folders.

Re:folders (3, Interesting)

superwiz (655733) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991298)

I've been able to find parking tickets from years back (because Police's system glitched and re-issued the ticket after it was resolved). It took less than half an hour to find all information on the tickets from 3 years prior.

Re:folders (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991372)

For items that are just FYI, I tend to just scan those and chuck the original. The files tend to just get stored on my HDD under an appropriate broad category with an informative title including date.

For items that are tax records, you're stuck either with a paper copy, or using an IRS approved scanning product. Which reminds me that I've misplaced mine.

But in general, I've found that it makes a lot more sense to store things chronologically, just holding out things that are definitely trash and definitely more appropriate elsewhere. That way, I can mostly shred the folder after a few years after a quick glance for anything that's still relevant.

The biggest problem folks have is getting overly elaborate, and this system is really as elaborate as you want to get, and probably could use some simplification.

Re:folders (4, Informative)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991570)

For items that are tax records, you're stuck either with a paper copy, or using an IRS approved scanning product.

There is no such thing as "an IRS approved scanning product". IRS simply accepts scanned receipts. Some vendors toss around terms like "IRS approved" in a vague and misleading manner in order to make you think their product meets some kind of IRS regulations, but this is just marketing bullshit.

Re:folders (1)

scruffy (29773) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991712)

Hanging folders with labels by category and year. Most categories only need 1 folder per year. At the end of the year, I move them to a "history" storage box and start a new set of folders.

I do this, but I don't organize papers into folders until they go into the storage box, which happens after I get done filing income taxes.

The main advantage of paper is that it lasts a long time. Many banks and financial institutions say they'll keep records for 10 years, which sounds like a long time, but sometimes you need longer. For me, I inherited some stock some 30 or so years ago. If I sell the stock, I need to know the cost basis, so I need information from 30 years ago, and I need to track mergers and splits over that time period.

Once financial institutions promise to keep records for my lifetime, I'll probably still keep the paper for backup purposes.

Piles, for short term stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991306)

Most invoices I get or can retrieve electronically. For stuff that has to be saved long term it gets put in a manilla right away. When I refinance I received 100+ legal pages I may never need to look at again. Scanning it would be a waste of time. Same for tax documents.

And shred as often as possible.

FIFO Queue (2)

wormbin (537051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991314)

Like any other data storage problem you have to ask yourself how you will access this data. For me there is a high probability that I will never look at an old phone bill or gas bill. In this case you want to optimize for insertion into the data store not selection from the data store. so I stick all of these statements into a big box. The more recent ones are on top so they are automatically sorted by date. When the box fills up I shred the bottom half of the box. This makes the most common case (insertion) really efficient; I just throw the paper in the box. In the rare case I need to find an old statement, I just hunt through the date sorted statements.

Re:FIFO Queue (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991386)

Good idea.

I wish OS/application writers would get this message. I hate having to root around for files.

95% of the time, I'm working with files that have been created or touched in the last few weeks.

I've found it really handy to keep the Gnome file selector set to sort by Modify date. But you still have to drill into folders to be able to see them sorted.

How about a system-global list of recently touched files *and* folders? The current Gnome one is hit-and-miss. And it's only in the File Open dialog, not in Nautilus.

Re:FIFO Queue (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991462)

It's pretty trivial on BeOS or vaguely recent versions of OS X to create a smart folder that contains files (optionally only of a specific type) that have been recently modified.

Re:FIFO Queue (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991560)

I personally use xplorer2 when on windows as my filemanager, and it's trivial to filter out things based upon name. Typically I'll name things by institution, account and date, sometimes if it's a receipt I'll append the item purchased. It's a bit of work, but it makes it a lot quicker to sort through those files.

Presumably theirs a better way.

Re:FIFO Queue (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991580)

It's pretty trivial on BeOS or vaguely recent versions of OS X to create a smart folder that contains files (optionally only of a specific type) that have been recently modified.

BeOS? I know we're big on edge cases here at Slashdot but BeOS?

Re:FIFO Queue (1)

Alrescha (50745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991662)

The OS X Finder has pre-installed buttons labeled "Today", "Yesterday" and "Past Week".

A.

Not electronic delivery! (3, Insightful)

dlsmith (993896) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991324)

Do you push to have as many sent electronically as possible?

I wish we lived in a world in which there was a secure electronic equivalent to document delivery. The technology exists, but nobody uses it.

As it is, the standard is for every company I deal with to require a separate login which gives me a web interface to tracking down the documents I need. Maybe they'll send a generic email when something new arrives. The problem is that this raises the convenience barrier so high that I rarely see the documents I'm being sent when they arrive — it happens when I'm already on the site and looking around. Which means I have to remember to go to the site.

When I get something in the mail, in contrast, I can look at it immediately, and then if necessary I can put it in a to-do box, which gives me a clear indication, in one place, of all the stuff I need to deal with.

Re:Not electronic delivery! (3, Informative)

TheClarkster (1130495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991388)

In Canada we have ePost. It is run by Canada Post and companies can send out bills, paystubs, T4's, etc electronically, all in the same place.

Re:Not electronic delivery! (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991698)

That's interesting, never heard of such a thing. Anywhere else employ a similar system?

Re:Not electronic delivery! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991628)

Which is exactly why I have not switched most of my paper bills to electronic delivery. Doing so changes it from a "sender pushes" (they mail it to me) system into a receiver pulls (I have to remember to go log in, hunt down the item, retrieve it, etc.).

If I could upload a gpg public key to each company that they would use to encrypt the .pdf of the bill or statement, and then email me that encrypted bill, I'd switch everything over immediately. Because this way, the electronic system is identical to the US Postal Mail system, they push it to me when it is ready.

Both paper and electronic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991328)

I store it both ways: Electronic for the searching and paper for the legal. I keep my bills for two years and then toss them. Account statements and the like I keep forever. (Anyone who has ever been through a contested divorce will appreciate the value of paper and permanent files.)

Paper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991330)

What's paper?

I have avoided switching to electronic documents (1)

RelentlessWeevilHowl (451367) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991342)

If I die unexpectedly, my wife will be able to (a) easily see the new documents coming in, and (b) easily see the old documents that I have on file. I use hanging folders, with each business' documents going back in time five years.

fujitsu scansnap (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991344)

Buy a Fujitsu Scansnap -- only $254 on Amazon, and does a great job of quickly scanning piles of documents. I use the software included with the Scansnap to manage the scanned documents -- the software is quirky and quite outdated, but it was developed for your use case, and works out better in the long run than a more polished, general purpose piece of software.

Scan your entire backlog of documents, then shred everything. No more paper storage. The PDFs that the Scansnap generates are fine for legal purposes; big companies use the same software for their documents and their lawyers are fine with it.

Re:fujitsu scansnap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991492)

I second this. I love my Fujitsu Scansnap. It really makes short work of big piles of paper.

Re:fujitsu scansnap (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991724)

Buy a Fujitsu Scansnap -- only $254 on Amazon

Or, for a lot less, buy a cheap inkjet multi-function device and never install the ink cartridges. Let all those other people who actually print using these things subside your "scanner" purchase whenever they buy ink.

Push-down stack (2)

Mysteray (713473) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991348)

Err on the side of not categorizing and not shredding. Only categorize into folders the stuff that you're likely to need to access by category in the future (e.g. tax documents). Everything else goes back into the envelope it came in. For bills, write "paid" on the front.

Use an appropriately-sized box to hold old mail neatly. Stick the newly-archived mail in the front (or top) of the stack such that it naturally sorts in a coarse reverse-chronological order. It's not too hard to go back through this to find stuff if you need it later and you'd probably never need to look further back than a year anyway.

Above all, don't spend more energy on the problem than it merits or else it will become a burdensome chore.

Re:Push-down stack (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991406)

Indeed, depending upon the number of documents, it's frequently better to just have a box or envelope per year, with everything in it for that time period. If you've got a lot, then moving to a per month or possibly per week file is a good idea. It's good because you've got it in chunk size bites. And if you do decide to digitize chances are that you can handle an entire months worth of papers on the first of the next month, but either way, you generally have a fair idea of when to look.

Re:Push-down stack (1)

hubie (108345) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991440)

How far back do you like to keep your documents? From how I understand your message, it doesn't sound like you get rid of anything.

I've got stacks of stuff going back +20 years that is around out of sheer laziness. One of my projects in the next couple months is bulk shredding, but I haven't quite decided where to draw the lines on what to keep and how far back (I'm pretty sure I can get rid of all those canceled checks and account statements from that bank account that was closed 15 years ago...).

Re:Push-down stack (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991766)

Well, what's the statute of limitations of the worst thing you've ever done? :)

Re:Push-down stack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991550)

Above all, don't spend more energy on the problem than it merits or else it will become a burdensome chore.
 
I think this is the real wisdom. My direct advice would be to recycle everything the first time you touch it- in almost 20 years of adult life, I've never needed a single piece of paper ever mailed to me and have had no identity theft problems. Sure, I keep DSPP/DRIP program statements for tax basis purposes, but even that data is easily available (and frankly easier to deal with) from the internet.

Simple (1)

stopacop (2042526) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991354)

Do like me and I assume everyone else by throwing it in a box and enjoying the thrill of adventure when you are digging through the box to find what you need.

Re:Simple (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991582)

As long as you start a new box every year, you can just chuck the ones that are older than 3 years typically without having to worry too much about the consequences.

Re:Simple (1)

stopacop (2042526) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991608)

BRB sending a DMCA takedown request to Slashdot because you posted sensitive company information about my box filing system

Data structure (1)

greenreaper (205818) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991358)

I like to call it a set of stacks, but it's really more of a heap. Old stuff goes in a boxed linked list.

Geeky method (5, Interesting)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991360)

Get a sequential numbering stamp, stamp your documents, and file them in order.

Then keep info about them in a database, inputting both the unique number, and free-form tags about the document.

Re:Geeky method (1)

DeBaas (470886) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991502)

I do just that for my company. I use the sequential numbering stamp, scan everything, (got a full duplex scanner with document feeder). The scanner numbers the scans automatically. I then use a small program where I can enter tags and then it emails it to a Gmail account. With the filtering features (filter on the tags) and great search options of Gmail I can always find stuff and download the scans. I keep all the originals in folders on their numbers. So if I ever need the original I can easily find it based on the number.

The big downside is that the scans are currently not yet encrypted. For that I started a small open source project at https://github.com/AlbertPluton/Tagnlock [github.com] to make some software where I can easily tag the scans, encrypt and then email the scans.
The software would have been ready, but I want users to be able to easily create their own tags and options such as compulsorily or not. So we're not there yet. But it is already on Github (GPLv2)

Re:Geeky method (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991610)

Awesome idea. I've been thinking about different schemes since my stuff is an absolute mess and this is probably the best idea I've come across yet. Thanks!

on the interweb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991370)

Just about all documents these days goes to my electronic mailbox instead of snailmail. http://www.e-boks.dk/page.aspx?pageid=f7b9da3d-2ee8-4309-ba0e-ae4cf895eb9b
everything from the goverment, electric bills, heating, bank, loans, credit cards, water, retirement fund, taxes, phone, internet, cable TV. I can sort them in folders, download them as PDF etc and buy extra space to upload personal documents i have scanned or whatever.

It is possible because I have a national ID(the horror). https://www.nemid.nu/om_nemid/about_nemid/

I have always had a terrible mess in all my documents and spent hours sorting them, looking for something and so on, but this really works well.

Piles (5, Funny)

crumbz (41803) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991376)

Lots of them. All over the house. It's a mess.

File Cabinet and Electronic (5, Informative)

moehoward (668736) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991380)

I follow IRS rules and keep 7 years of documents. When possible, I have bills electronically sent to me and I simply file them in folders in G-mail.

Each January, I create a new set of file folders (physical) that mirror the previous year's folder structure. Then, I shred the files from 8 years ago. Takes an entire hour. My files for current year and past year are in the top drawer of a 4-drawer file cabinet. The other 5 years' stuff is stored 2 drawers down. The 2nd drawer holds things like insurance info and instructions/directions (indirections??) for house-hold "stuff". The bottom drawer is for home-owners stuff, personal stuff. etc.

My work files are stored under my desk in a double-drawer horizontal filing cabinet. It holds all things work-related. But, the top drawer closest to me holds anything that is currently going on in my life, so that I have instant access when I get phone calls, e-mails, etc. On top of that, I have an organizer on my desk that holds really, really current stuff that would include stuff that I will be working with on any given day.

I have been doing this for years, and it works, as long as you keep a maintenance routine. Easy habits to get into and I am never searching through piles like I see others doing. My desk stays neat and organized and I always have what I need for any day right in front of me.

Being organized like this is essential to increasing personal productivity and producing quality work.

It is stupidly easy, but I would say that maybe less than 5% of people can achieve a high-level of organization.

Your question might come across as dumb to other slashdotters, but I find it incredibly relevant.

Re:File Cabinet and Electronic (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991476)

Whilst I currently don't have a system in place, that's essentially the one I'd opt for, except on the 7 year boundary I'd scan and then shred the documents. For instance my OH's business will probably follow that, once she hits the 7 year limit, scan and destroy. Neither her business nor my paperwork is old enough to hit that boundary yet (being mid 20s) but I agree that it's best to start now. I'm the sort of person who likes things easy to find, and properly filed. For instance, when sorting through huge piles of mess, I scatter it all out on the floor and then sub-pile and sub-sub-pile until I get it into some crazy neat order. I actually find it quite fun. Personally, I watch out for envelopes. I always rip in half envelopes once delt with, and file the condensed paper elsewhere, else I accidentally might look at an envelope and think it's something that needs dealing with (or more likely, the opposite and not deal with something important).

Re:File Cabinet and Electronic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991670)

Sorry to inform you the rule with the IRS is that you need to keep 3 years of documents. The exception is if you are committing a felony related crime (as in the Federal Courts) then you have to keep documents for 7 years.

Re:File Cabinet and Electronic (1)

butlerm (3112) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991762)

The IRS rarely goes back more than three years, and then only if there appears to be a serious problem. As far as the value of keeping receipts for minor expenses from even three years ago goes, one might consider the cost to you if the IRS arbitrarily decided to disallow all of them. For many people that is a such a small number it is not worth losing sleep over.

If you run a non-trivial business, are relatively well off, or have deductions for large transactions, however, you better keep documentation for all of that.

is i am crazy, but (1)

NuclearCat (899738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991384)

1)I scan them 2)store in my pc (directory with dates) 3)burn a copy to CD/DVD 4)get a hermetic plastic bag, put a CD and papers inside together 5)put bag of Silica Gel with them, seal 6)print on label printer -dates of archive, stick on bag 7)put bag in cabinet, in the basement. I hope one day i can put in this bags dry nitrogen, instead of air, and get better bags, and thermal labels maybe will discolour after while, but i don't want to look more insane, than i am now. P.S. I keen even checks from supermarket, and thermal ones tend to discolor after 3 years, but it is just for fun.

Re:is i am crazy, but (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991636)

If you notice any spare <BR> tags, you might want to recycle those. You seem to be down a few.

Re:is i am crazy, but (1)

Antarius (542615) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991680)

Uh-oh! It's a Dog vs Cat fight going on here!

by year/by type (1)

godrik (1287354) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991392)

When I receive a document, I file it by type: electricity/phone/rent/misc/salary stub/insurance/....
In january. I put all of them in a big envelop and write the year on it.

Box files (1)

madprof (4723) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991404)

I have some shelves with box files containing all important paper documents.There is no way I am trusting my own electronic storage to hold the data as it is still way too fragile and scanning everything is a massive chore. Your time should be worth more than that. Far more efficient to keep the paper and shred years later.

For electronic stuff it tends to be things kept on the systems of the bank or utility company so I only have to login to their systems to get hold of it.

Fujitsu Fi-6130 - Brilliant at filing a lot paper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991408)

I've got Fujitsu Fi-6130 for 3 years by now - although it was expensive - it was/is worth every penny

I get two layer PDF - scan + OCR which should be good enough as proof and searchable too.

Effective download? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991416)

Very timely topic, as I am looking to go as paperless as possible myself. I just went through a couple of filing cabinet drawers and got rid of 18" of paper that didn't need to be kept past a year.

One obstacle to getting soft copies of utilities, bank, brokers, etc. is that most of them put not effort in naming the pdf version of your statements. Thus, you have to rename each by hand (Schwab being an exception). Also, they usually pay no attention to how many clicks are required to download two successive months. Does anyone have GreaseMonkey scripts or some such for the major providers to ease the task?

Once downloaded I back this up locally and through a SaaS provider. That has got to be safer than my filing cabinet.

Re:Effective download? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991678)

One obstacle to getting soft copies of utilities, bank, brokers, etc. is that most of them put not effort in naming the pdf version of your statements. Thus, you have to rename each by hand

Yes. Receiving random_server_side_script_name.php for each and every one of them is not at all helpful. I've complained to the "suggestion" lines of some of them, no change....

Also, they usually pay no attention to how many clicks are required to download two successive months.

Nor do they provide any means of "bulk download" of a set of items.

Does anyone have GreaseMonkey scripts or some such for the major providers to ease the task?

I've been tempted a few times to write my own crawlers for the places that only provide electronic statements, but have not yet had time to do so.

throw it in a box (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991426)

I throw all my mail in a box. I go through it once a year to do my taxes.

Fit the Method to the Need (1)

richg74 (650636) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991432)

Having looked at this for my business, as well as for personal stuff, I think the first thing to think about, for each category of document, why you need to save it, and how you are likely to use it. For things that you are required to save, like tax documents, I am not sure that electronic storage is sufficient -- you may need the paper. On the other hand, keeping the paper doesn't mean you have to work with the paper. Scan them, by all means, and use your electronic files as an index. I have a regular-size filing cabinet with hanging folders (by year for tax info, for example), which I very rarely look into. For other things that you may keep for reference, electronic records may be fine. And some stuff, like old utility bills, is probably not worth keeping at all.

Shredder (1)

4105 (819650) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991446)

I pretty much shred everything. I only keep paper copies of things like tax returns, and only for seven years. All that stuff fits in a hand held file box.

KISS (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991448)

Paper folder with dividers, hole puncher, file and forget. I have sections for the things I might need again like work contract & related, apartment & related, insurance & related, tax reporting and related and so on then a big section of general bills/receipts. I don't bother with the date on it, I simply file them in the order I put them in - it's close enough that I don't bother. The electronic ones I hope either who I got them from or my webmail provider will keep - at least one of them. Those I generally just pay and if all else goes nuclear I'll just have the bank statement but I accept that risk.

Most of my bills I don't really even see, they get paid automatically with a transfer limit. If they're higher than expected then they'll be stopped and I'll get mail that the payment was not completed, either because they raised prices or they did a mistake in billing. It's as simple as that.

Mounds and piles. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991452)

They fall over when they get more than about 2' high, though.
Also, the parrot chews on them.

I just throw them away (1)

stinerman (812158) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991456)

I get two bills by mail and I can check the status of them online (they just won't stop sending me paper bills).

They usually don't get opened and just thrown in the garbage. Is that a great idea? No. I should probably shred them, but I'm lazy and too cheap to buy a shredder.

"lazy filing" (1)

david.emery (127135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991470)

Each year as the year goes on, I toss everything into a "inbasket". Then come tax time (usually around New Years), I dump out the box, sort through and organize the receipts. I'll put all the gas receipts together in order & staple them, electric receipts together and staple them, etc. Then I extract all the tax info into a single spreadsheet, making a note on the source (e.g. for a deductible item on a credit card, I note the card and the month of the statement with that item.) Finally, I dump everything into a bag and put that bag in a "banker's storage box;" I can usually fit 2 bags (2 years) into a single box. Then I stick that box in the closet, and hope I don't get audited. This usually takes about 10 hours over a 2-3 day period. The core principle here is "don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow, or whenever the item is really needed." :-)

The exceptions to this are receipts associated with home improvements, which go into a separate folder (so I can deduct them from the value of the house when I sell it), car repair receipts (each car has a separate folder so I have, at least in principle, full service records for that car), any permanent legal documents which go into their own "permanent save me" folder, and finally the taxes themselves. I print out the full set of tax reports/forms (from TurboTax) and also save the full set of tax forms as a PDF. That PDF goes into a folder that is part of what I back up in multiple copies (along with digital photographs, scanned family records/genealogical documents, etc).

There are sites that provide retention advice for various classes of receipts.

all digital (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991494)

Definitely scan & shred. It's only a little bit more time to stick paper in the scanner to my left and scan than it would be to file the paper in even the loosest of physical filing systems--and then I never ever have to touch that piece of paper again. (Well, OK, I toss it on the floor, then when I get up later pick up the pile and stuff it in the shredder--that that is the last time I touch the paper.) To me, definitely worth it to be done with it once and for all.

One folder per year, within that one folder per category (where categories are broad: household, mortgage, medical expenses, health insurance...), file named with date & description.

Of course not everybody has a half dozen or so high-speed document scanners in their office. (I write software for them...)

Scan, server, off-site backup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991506)

I started scanning years ago and ultimately got a high-speed, two-sided scanner to accomplish the task. My file structure isn't that different than the way I used physically file documents.

Company Name ->
      Year ->
            Document Name
with document name having a format of [YYYY-MM-DD description]

I debated lots of different filing/naming technique and settled on this one because it's easier for my wife to find a document and I can delete a company's documents based on the year.

Since initially setting this up, most of the companies with whom I do business offer on-line documents. I still download those and file them in my structure so I can go to documents as needed. I choose the downloaded versions because they're much smaller than the ones I manually scan.

Overall this was a convenient method for filing and wasn't much more than that until about 3 years ago when I created an expense/inventory system. I created my own just for fun and because I wanted to track categories of expenses differently than the ways provided by commercial packages and I wanted a system where I owned the data but had it accessible online. With this system, documents and receipts are linked from the expense/inventory system.

Up until linking via this system it was of little value other than reducing the amount of paper we kept filed. I'm surprised at the number of times I look up documents, receipts, etc. online. The inventory system came about because we're getting ready to move and will have most of our possessions in storage for an extended period of time. My wife and I went room to room cataloging almost everything, taking a photo and storing the information. Because of the way the system was set up, my wife can look at a photo of a piece of furniture, link to the expense entry from when we bought it and view the documents/receipts associated with that entry.

Thinking about how you're going to access the documents and deal with archiving/deletion will help determine your storage structure.

The process was extremely painful until I got the two-sided, high speed scanner.

I use one of the network-based, off-site storage service providers to back up the systems.

Stacked, catagorised and scanned. (1)

majesticmerc (1353125) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991558)

My document archiving works like this:

  1. 1. Document is placed in my in tray (yes, I have an in tray at home) if it requires dealing with. Bills for example all get put in my in tray so that I remember to pay them. This step is skipped if the document is reference only (acknowledgement letters, signed contracts, etc).
  2. 2. The document is placed in the "black file", which is a catagorised file of documents. The document is also scanned to a PDF and stored on my PC (and backed up)
  3. 3. The document lives in the black file until it is no longer relevant (for bills, a year, contracts stay until they expire, etc), at which point it is shredded, but the digital copy is kept permanently.

This works well for me, but obviously ymmv. Keeping documents digitized also keeps them in easy reach and means I only need a small file to keep important documents since older ones are all stored electronically.

Pay over the Internet. No paper bills. (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991584)

While I do get stuff mailed to me if I miss a payment, most things here in Sweden (and I believe most other parts of Europe) allows for e-mail based bills and/or just setting up a periodic wiring of money to an account through the bank's web page. My bank logins are handled using a wireless smartcard reader w/ a PIN keypad. Thus, the only things I need to file are contracts, receipts and other such signed documents; this reduces the paper load to one plastic binder, small enough that you can just flip through it to find the document you want On the other hand, I don't own or purchase many things where it would make sense to keep receipts or warranty agreements, for example.

Occasionally I've needed to submit copies of documents to the government to prove medical expenses or such since privacy laws means that the different state departements cannot easily share such things, but it's rare (however some stuff should probably be kept down in the vault of the local bank, but that's an extra expense.) As for disposal, I just tear them to shreds and throw them in the trash. If I had to dispose of something really sensitive, I guess I'd just slowly burn it under the kitchen vent.

Scan'n'shred (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991586)

I use a commercial app from Neat. It comes bundled with a small sheet scanner that works pretty well. It's small enough to sit on the desk and be shoved out of the way when not in use. The software is fairly comprehensive, allowing scheduled backups to a network share, OCR of documents, business cards, receipts, etc. At the end of the month, I make sure the most recent backup was successful, then shred the paper copies.

storage (1)

egor.alexeyev (2096734) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991598)

I store my documents in plastic files with zipper-like fastener. The files are in different sizes, ones for standard sized paper and smaller ones.

what is this, Lifehacker? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991612)

what is this, Lifehacker?

Packrat solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991614)

I tend to horde paper documents, so to solve that I moved to a mostly electronic solution. I have three kids in middle school, so sometime the paperwork is overwhelming, but this has helped me cope.

I created a categorized hierarchical directory structure on my PC and scan in every document I receive as a PDF. I label each file with the date and brief description. A few documents I must keep the original copy, such as birth certificates, titles, etc, so those I file in a filing cabinet. I was using Paperport to manage the documents and scans. It works, but it's buggy. I switched to Scanwiz, which is cheaper and much simpler and has less bugs.

Most bank statements and bills I download as PDF and store them in the proper directory.

Since some of the documents I can't afford to lose, I backup them up using CrashPlan. It's the best online backup I've found.

Electronically (1)

Megahard (1053072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991622)

Required: scanner and shredder. Everyone should own a shredder, or take sensitive stuff to one of those commercial shredder services. Otherwise, as some have mentioned, you eventually get hip-deep in paper. A very small number of paper docs need to be kept (auto title, will, e.g.). Use whatever systematic organization you want for scanned documents. You will need good backups including off-site. And a way for selected others to access it if something happens to you. Yes, it's some work to set up, but then it's easy to run and maintain. And if you get everything you can delivered electronically, it saves a lot of paper.

In a big pile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991624)

on the kitchen table until I can't use the table and then into a paper bag in the basement. Why, do you need something?

Filing Cabinet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991658)

They're these amazing specialised pieces of furniture that can hold large numbers of folders. Retaining various documents for 7 years is usually required under tax laws in Ireland (and similar in other countries). I bought a four-drawer filing cabinet. shrug. If was doing more, maybe I'd get another, then I'd have one drawer a year and an extra one for permanent stuff, eh?

Scanner with document feeder makes it easy. (1)

kieran (20691) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991674)

I picked up a printer/scanner combo with a document feeder, and I scan everything and (save for anything I think I might need for legal reasons) shred the originals.

I file the docs in folders by company name and with a YYYYMMDD-whatever image name or subfolder (for multiple pages). And I upload a backup to my server.

This has worked really well for me; paprework used to be a nightmare to find as I was so bad at filing it. Now I can find anything easily, and even email someone what they're asking for directly from my phone. It's awesome.

Combination of GTD/ScanSnap/DevonThink Pro (1)

Master Of Ninja (521917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991688)

I heartily recommend a setup based on a ScanSnap and some sort of organisational filing software. The ScanSnap is a home-office grade document scanner - the main difference to your cheapo scanners is it's focus on documents and it's ability to scan both sides of A4 paper in one pass, achieving at least 20ppm scanning. The software that comes with it should be able to do OCR. I combine this with DevonThink on the Mac which allows me to organise the documents efficiently and search through them - it will allow you to 'tag' documents so that actually finding things is very easy. I have years of documents with me this way, and the documents come with me on the road.

The paper documents I file in a filing cabinet at home. Get a 4 drawer filing cabinet. Get a label maker. File everything in alphabetical order. Use one drawer for 'months' - this will hold documents that you can shred at the appropriate time of year.

GTD is a great method of planning and organisation however people never keep to the strict philosophy and work variations. I would read it. That should get you sorted.

I store mine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35991746)

In the freezer. That way they don't get lost.

Paper triage (1)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35991770)

I think it really helps to think about what paperwork will be needed by you in the future. It may be comforting to have every electric bill you ever received but why would you ever need it?

For me I have all my periodic bills sent to me electronically. I download all my transactions into Quicken and I back up that file locally and remotely. Everything is budgeted so if something comes in out of line I'm alerted immediately.

I keep a paper printout of all my tax returns and associated receipts etc. That is easily the biggest chunk, 7 years of that takes up 1/2 a filing cabinet. I also keep things like paperwork for tickets or any really important contracts I sign (like for the car I bought last year). I keep about 1 year worth of pay stubs. That's about it.

If you're keeping all your bills I think that is overkill. Even scanning and keeping that seems like it just won't ever have a use.

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