Security and Safety

Are You Storing Important Documents Safely?

By Joshua Baethge 5.13.19

Step inside the average home and there’s a good chance you’ll find a stash of important papers tucked away somewhere. Maybe they’re in a drawer, a closet, or even a box in the attic. While these papers seem to be out of harm’s way, they are probably more vulnerable than you think.

“You really want to store them somewhere that’s fireproof and requires a key or passcode,” says Walker Bartlett, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in Abilene. “I don’t recommend a file cabinet in the back room.”

But how should you lock them away, and what needs to get stored? Here are a few tips on  storing important documents that can help you protect your personal information.

What Documents Should You Keep?

It can be tempting when you’re organizing your paperwork to simply throw it all away. But it’s important not to lose documents you may need in the future.

You should hold onto these papers indefinitely:

  • Tax returns
  • Wills
  • Birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Social security cards
  • Property deeds
  • Automobile titles
  • Insurance information
  • Medical records
  • Financial records including pension and retirement plans

Hold onto these for seven years:

  • Old bank statements
  • Medical bills
  • Receipts for tax purposes

Throw these out every couple of months:

  • Utility bills
  • Bank receipts

To Shred or Not to Shred?

When you do throw paperwork away, make sure it can’t fall into the wrong hands. Shredding — not with a basic strip-cut shredder but a crosscut one for enhanced security — can protect personal documents when you don’t need them anymore.

Shred it: Your mailbox can hold pleasant surprises, including a variety of colorful catalogs, cards, and gifts, but sensitive information gets dropped in there too. Bank statements, financial investments, bills, unwanted credit card solicitations, and anything with your social security number on it should all go in the shredder.

Toss it: There’s usually no need to shred junk mail that is marked “Current Resident” or “Occupant.” An identity thief can’t do damage without more sensitive information. But know that junk mail with barcodes can sometimes contain personal information, and you’ll want to shred those. If there are no barcodes, just recycle and move on to the next stack of papers.

Should You Go Paperless?

Most businesses now give you the option to make all documents associated with your account paperless, meaning you’ll receive and pay bills online. You can contact your bank, cable provider, cellphone service, etc. and see how you can switch to paperless billing.

Eliminating the need for paper documents may seem like a good solution to the problem of keeping and storing and sorting. However, you must be extremely careful with how you do it.

“Anything you back up on a computer is as good as dust,” Bartlett says. “Try to also have a hard copy, because we all know that computers can crash.”

Storing important documents on the cloud will protect you from losing documents, but it also makes you vulnerable to criminals who hack data and could gain access to your personal information. Make sure you have strong passwords and take cybersecurity measures to protect your information.

The best way to store documents online is to employ encryption technology, which uses complex algorithms to jumble up the data, making it illegible. Both Mac and Windows have encryption options embedded within them.

How Can You Keep Hard Copies Safe?

A safe deposit box is one of the most foolproof storage options. However, the hassle of going to the bank every time you need your passport is enough of a deterrent for many that they’ll end up storing important documents in their home. In that case, home safes are a good option. If you don’t have a house with one built into the wall, there are a wide variety of other products available.

Your Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent will be happy to discuss ways to better organize and prepare for the future. Call to schedule a 360 Review of your policies, and learn more about decluttering here.

Coverage and discounts are subject to qualifications and policy terms and may vary by situation. © 2019 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance