How Long Do I Keep…

April 5th, 2017

How Long Do I Need to Keep…

This time of year – tax time to be specific – often causes one to ask the question, “How long do I need to keep certain documents?”  Whether you are a large corporation, a medium size organization, a small business or have personal information at your residence, keeping the records you need for the required length of time and disposing of them correctly is vital.

A document retention policy, also known as a retention schedule, is the key whether you are considering business or personal records.  It tells you how long particular documents must be kept (or retained) and gives you permission to destroy the material once an established period has passed.

Retention schedules have many benefits including:

They provide both business and personal efficiency.  By disposing of records that have met their retention requirements significant and valuable storage space can be freed up.  This includes more than just square footage.  Consider file servers, computers, space and environmental conditions they often require.  Time savings is also a valuable efficiency benefit.  Retaining outdated records means more to go through when looking for decision-making information.

Protection in litigation and audit.  Consistently following an established document retention policy may aid in defending oneself from potential litigation or audit.  Not having the right document can be detrimental to your case.  Even if you believe you have a particular record, if you can’t produce it, it does no good.  Knowing what records you have, where they are located and how long they are kept can help your case.  By the same token, being able to show that records you no longer have were destroyed in compliance with an established document retention policy that is routinely followed can help demonstrate that destruction was reasonable.

While clearing things out is important, a balance between being too aggressive and too cautious needs to be attained.

Once you have identified how long your records need to be kept it’s important to consider what you’ll do with those you no longer need.  Shredding is the most secure disposal option and not just for paper.  Hard drives, microfilm, CDs and outdated or defective products are just a few examples of materials that may contain information you want to keep confidential.

Large, medium and small businesses may find regular destruction services to be the best fit.  These can generally be scheduled on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis.  If you are implementing a document retention policy you may find yourself needing to schedule a one-time purge before your ongoing service begins.  Shred events are an option for personal destruction needs and are often scheduled by businesses as a service to their employees or customers.  A listing of upcoming shred events can be found at www.shredrightnow.com.  To schedule one at your business contact info@shredrightnow.com.

When developing your document retention policy recognize every business has its own requirements, every situation is unique and every individual has their own considerations.  The following links provide suggested guidelines but are not to be considered legal advice.  A discussion with legal counsel, an accounting or financial advisors or a practicing Certified Records Manager is recommended.  At Shred Right our on-staff CRM is available to help.  Call us today (651-647-1300) or send an email (beth@shredrightnow.com) for additional information.

 

Better Business Bureau – http://www.bbb.org/us/Storage/54/Documents/household_retention.pdf

Better Business Bureau – https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/youngstown-oh-91/media/consumer-records-retention-schedule-2014.pdf

Better Business Bureau – http://www.bbb.org/storage/0/Shared%20Documents/secure%20your%20id%20day/bbb%20records%20retention%20schedule.pdf

Internal Revenue Service – https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/how-long-should-i-keep-records

Minnesota State Archives – http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/records/retentionsched.php

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