We're all guilty of it – either you're someone who doesn't know where to find any of your financial paperwork, or you've kept every single receipt, bill and tax returns from the past 20 years.
No matter how you've managed your paperwork in the past, it's quite possible your current system needs some improvement.
Organising your financial records is kind of like cleaning the pantry. Things start to build up, you're not sure what's in there and it's definitely a task you've been putting off. While it's not something you're probably rushing to do, once organised, you will have an easy to maintain system and you might even get some peace of mind knowing where to find things at tax time or in an emergency.
So what things do you need to keep?
Tax related documents
Keep these documents on hand for five years after you lodge your tax return in case you're asked to substantiate your claims.
- Wages details - this may be in the form of a Pay as you go (PAYG) payment summary or a statement from the payer.
- Any other received income payments such as interest, dividends and rental income - these will generally be in the form of bank statements
- Expenses related to the income you received such as property repairs or the purchase of a new computer
- Sale or purchase assets such as a home or shares
- Donations, contributions or gifts to charities – check the Australian Taxation Office for details on what donations can be claimed.
- A records of contributions you've made into your super fund
- Your previous year's tax returns and refund details
Life paperwork and important documents to keep
Try and keep all your important documents together, whether in a physical place like an organised filing drawer or on your computer. It will make yours or your loved ones life so much easier if you know where to look.
- Property deeds and mortgage details
- Wills and powers of attorney
- Birth and death certificates
- Marriage or divorce certificates
- Tax file numbers
- Vaccination records for your family and pets
- Insurance policies
- Superannuation details
- Loan documents or contracts
- Vehicle documents such as registration and service history
- Any education or qualification certificates
- Product warranties and receipts
Each of these have different life spans that you may need to assess on a case by case basis. As a rule of thumb, never dispose of birth, death, marriage or qualification certificates. Policy details on the other hand can be updated every 1 – 2 years, there's no point keeping your car registration details from 2014!
What can you throw away?
Things such as your phone, rates, water and electricity bills do not need to be kept on hand for years to come. As best practice, if you want to hold on to these, replace the old version with the new one so you're not accumulating clutter. If you're someone who also receives paper bills or statements, consider going digital. Not only is this better for the environment, but you can easily access or download these from your provider if you ever require them.
Ask your bank to switch you to electronic statements for a faster, more secure and paperless way of receiving your information. Find out more about Auswide Bank eStatements.
Tips for organising your financial records and paperwork
1. Create a system
Whether you prefer to keep your documents physically, digitally or a bit of both, you should try to organise them into some kind of system by creating categories such as house and property, certificates, tax, medical, insurance policies, warranties etc. To keep your system for spiralling out of control, include a quick guide or label for different documents with how long you need to keep them so you know when to toss or replace.
2. Back it up
If you do decide to store your records digitally, always be sure to back up your fires either on a hard drive or cloud storage. For physical files, be sure to store these in a safe place in the instance of a fire or flood. Ensure your family also knows where to find important documents in case of an emergency.
3. Destroy old documents correctly
When it's time to dispose of old records and documents the best course of action is a shredder to protect against identity theft. However if you don't have one at home, there are many businesses that offer document shredding services including places like Officeworks. While shredding old documents may seem excessive, it's important to keep your personal and sensitive information confidential. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 153,000 Australians over the age of 15 experienced identity theft in 2020-2021.
If you do experience identity theft, contact your local police and ask for a police report or reference number so you have evidence that you reported the issue. If know something specific was stolen, contact the organisation that issued your identity document and your financial institution.
This information provides general advice only. We do not provide advice about this product based on any consideration of your personal objectives, needs or circumstances.
Published: Tuesday, 19 Jul 2022