As people continue to move from retaining paper documents to retaining electronic documents we get the question, “How Long Do I Need to Keep This?” Although there are many different regulatory agencies that dictate what files need retention and for how long, there are some general guidelines that you can follow. This link will take you to a list of general guidelines. https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/clearwater-fl-47/clearwater_fl_47/bbb-records-retention-schedule.pdf .
However, I do advise that you check with your attorney or financial advisor before destroying legal documents, financial documents, or business documents. Remember YOU are responsible for retaining all copies of your files. Your advisors may retain them for a period as a courtesy but the ultimate responsibility is yours. When you are ready to destroy your documents make sure you do this in a secure manor such as utilizing a shredding company for paper files and/or hard drives.
When retaining documents, I recommend scanning and keeping them in an electronic format. If the information is digital the contents of the documents are maintained. If you keep your files in paper format they can be damaged easily by environmental factors, they can be lost, or the ink doesn’t hold up and they are not legible. If you retain your documents in digital format you can set up in a filing system just as you would paper files. A digital file system allows you to easily locate documents, share documents and destroy documents. A bonus would be freeing up storage space in your home or business.
Moving from paper to electronic files will take some set up time in the beginning but once you have the initial framework in place this will simplify your overall filing and retention procedure. I recommend backing up your digital filing system either on a separate external hard drive or to a “cloud” storage such as Microsoft Drive, MozyHome or Carbonite. If you are saving your files in a digital format ALWAYS make sure you have a strong password on all your devices, files, websites, and applications. Encryption software could also be added to your devices for an added layer of protection and not very expensive.
If you are skeptical about keeping your files in electronic format just remember a paper file can be lost, stolen, or ruined probably easier than a digital file.
~Sarah Galley, SPHR