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

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  • paper (Score:4, Informative)

    by symf ( 764314 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:48PM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:48PM (#35991292) Journal
    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.
  • fujitsu scansnap (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:54PM (#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 I use the software included with the Scansnap to manage the scanned documents -- the software is quirky and quite outdated, but it was developed for your use case, and works out better in the long run than a more polished, general purpose piece of software.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.

  • by moehoward ( 668736 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:00PM (#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.

  • by TheClarkster ( 1130495 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:02PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:02PM (#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 )

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:15PM (#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:folders (Score:5, Informative)

    by sribe ( 304414 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:22PM (#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.

  • Paytrust (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:50PM (#35991772)

    I have all (well nearly all) of my bills sent to Paytrust [].

    I set their address as my billing address, when they receive the paper bills, they scan them in and store them for me. Then they pay the bills for me -- I set up payment rules so, for example, if my electric bill is less than $50, they pay it automatically, if it's more than that, they email me an exception notice and wait for me to take action. It's also possible to set a maximum payment, so for example with a credit card bill, I can tell them to pay a maximum of $200 on my bill (or the total payment due if it's less than $200).

    For most merchants that have electronic bill retrieval, they retrieve the electronic copy of the bill so I don't have to have a paper bill sent to them.

    For merchants that don't send a bill (i.e. my landlord), I can schedule automatic payments (or do one-time payments) just like any online payment service.

    They have electronic payment arrangements for most major billers (credit card companies, utilities ,etc), so they don't even need to send out a check in many cases, they pay electronically so there's no chance of the bill getting lost in the mail (though I believe that with some smaller billers, instead of an EFT, they send one paper check for all of their customers along with a list of account numbers to apply the payment to)

    In about 10 years of using their service, they've never lost a payment - I've had a few checks in the mail fail to be delivered, but in all but one case, the check eventually made it, it was delayed by the post office.

    Some merchants get confused when your billing address is not the same as your physical address. Sometimes they sent notices to the paytrust address, which Paytrust either scans in for you, or if it's something like an auto insurance card, they forward it to you by mail.

    The only missing feature that I really wish they had is a way to upload my own invoices, so if I get a bill from my plumber I can upload it to my Paytrust account to store it and send him a check.

    At the end of the year, they sell me a CD with all of my bill images on it.

    I know this sounds like a paid advertisement for Paytrust, but I am just a very satisfied customer - I'm usually terrible about paying bills on time, Paytrust makes sure I make all of my bills are paid on time. Does anyone know if there any other competing services? My bank's online bill-pay service just doesn't compare - they have no way to receive paper bills and pay them for me.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @03:26PM (#35992308) Journal
    • 1. Buy Stock s for $x.
    • 2. ....
    • 3. Sell Stock s for $z.
    • 4. PROFIT!!
    • 5. Pay capital gains tax based on z-x.
    • 6. ...
    • 7. IRS Audits you - you may need the records from step 1.

    Step 6 is 3-7 years depending on whether the IRS is lazy or suspects you of fraud, but Step 2 if however long you hold the asset before you sell it. If it's a more complicated investment, there may be other steps involved - for instance, the company merges with another, or spins off another company, or splits their stock, or does something else weird, so now you the stock you own isn't identical to what you bought.

    If you own a house, you need to keep even more records. There's the purchase of the house, and anything related to the purchasing process (real estate commissions, lawyers, everything about the mortgage), any expenses you have that increase the basis of the house (a new garage counts, painting the inside might not), and then when you sell the house, usually you're buying another one and rolling over the capital gain into it (unless it was a loss.) You probably only need to keep documentation on a single house for 7 years after you file your taxes after you sell it (maybe up to 9 if it took you the whole 2 years to buy the next house), since the tax return from rolling over the cost documents your basis.

    Usually the rule is to keep purchase records 7 years after you sell something.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly