Paper, paper everywhere!  Are you in danger of being lost forever in the mounds of paper taking over your space?  While it’s true there are documents that should never, ever be thrown out, most do not fall in that category. 
 
One method of retention and disposal is to keep banker boxes by year of disposal.  For example, one box would contain documents that are kept indefinitely.  Another might have a disposal date of 12/31/08 and would contain records with various retention rules but that all expire on 12/31/08.  On January 1, 2009 you can feel free to run the entire contents through the shredder without feeling the need to examine and agonize over every document.
 
Some are more comfortable keeping documents for each year together.  This method certainly makes the initial filing easier, but requires periodic inspection to determine which documents are ready for shredding. 
 
Regardless of the method, use the following guidelines to diminish the piles that threaten to consume you.  The list is separated into two sections, personal and business.
 

PERSONAL:
 
Tax returns
7 years
Personal health records
Indefinitely
Medical expenses claimed on tax return
7 years
Medical records and expenses not claimed on tax return
5 years after treatment ends
Life insurance policies
Life of policy + 3 years
Home insurance, no anticipated claims
5 years
Home insurance, potential claims
10 years
Warranties
Upon date warranty expires
Home repair bills and contracts
10 years
Pay stubs
Upon receipt and verification of annual W-2
Bank statements
3 months
Credit card statements
3 months
ATM receipts
Upon reconciliation of bank statement showing transaction
Retirement plan documents and statements
Indefinitely
Utility bills deducted on tax return
7 years
Utility bills not deducted on tax return
3 months
Mortgage statements
Length of ownership + 7 years
Mortgage documents
10 years
Contractor lien releases
Upon completion of title search at time property is sold
BUSINESS:
 
Accident reports and claims (settled cases)
7 years
Accounts Payable and Receivable ledgers and schedules
7 years
Audit reports of accountants
Indefinitely
Bank reconciliations
1 year
Bank statements
7 years
Cash books
Indefinitely
Chart of Accounts
Indefinitely
Checks (canceled, see exceptions below)
7 years
Checks (canceled for important payments, i.e., taxes, purchase of property, special contracts, etc.)
Indefinitely
Construction documents
Indefinitely
Contracts and leases (expired)
7 years
Correspondence (general)
3 years
Correspondence (important)
Indefinitely
Deeds, mortgages, bills of sale, titles
Indefinitely
Depreciation schedules
Indefinitely
Duplicate deposit slips
1 year
Electronic fund transfer documents
7 years
Employee personnel records (after termination)
7 years
Employment applications
3 years
Expense analyses and expense distribution schedules
7 years
Financial statements, annual
Indefinitely
General ledgers and end-of-year trial balance
Indefinitely
I-9’s (after termination)
Later of 3 years after hire or 1 year after termination
Insurance policies, expired
3 years
Inventories
7 years
Invoices to customers
7 years
Invoices from vendors
7 years
Journals
Indefinitely
Licenses
Indefinitely
Loan documents
Indefinitely
Minute books of directors and stockholders, including by-laws and charter
Indefinitely
Notes receivable ledgers and schedules
7 years
OSHA logs
5 years
Payroll records, summaries, pensions, payroll taxes
7 years
Petty cash vouchers
3 years
Property appraisals by outside appraisers
Indefinitely
Property records including costs, end-of-year trial balances, blueprints and plans
Indefinitely
Purchase orders
7 years
Receiving sheets
1 year
Sales records
7 years
Scrap and salvage records
7 years
Subsidiary ledgers
7 years
Tax returns and worksheets, agents’ report, any documents relating to income tax liability
Indefinitely
Timecards
7 years
Trademark registrations
Indefinitely
Voucher register and schedules
7 years
Vouchers for payments to vendors, employees, etc.
7 years
W-4 forms
4 years
Workman’s compensation documents
11 years