Knowing how long to keep household records and receipts avoids problems such as inaccurate tax filings, inability to reconcile checkbooks or cash-flow, and inefficient financial management. Some documents are needed for a lifetime, others expire in months. In any case, being able to identify the functionality, validity and utility of household records and receipts is key in knowing how long they are needed.
One way to make individual or household archival decisions is with the help of a record-keeping reference guide. For example household record tips from the Ohio State University suggest warranties should be kept for as long as the corresponding property is owned, but recommend income records only be kept for six years. However, knowing the reasoning behind such references is also helpful in evaluating the accuracy of record-keeping decisions because individuals can have different record requirements.
Household records and receipts are used to document transactions, evaluate credibility, and verify tax claims. They can also protect and confirm identity, legal rights, health records and ownership. If the records are expired, invalid or so old they are no longer given any legal or financial credence, then there is a good chance they won’t be needed for documentation and verification purposes. However, some household records such as birth-records never expire and should generally be kept for as long as one is alive.
In terms of financial records, statutory limitations determine how long a particular financial transaction, debt or income can be legally enforced. These statutory limitations range between 2-15 years depending on the state, type of agreement and debt. For example, according to Nolo, in Kentucky a lawsuit on debt agreed to in writing can be filed for up to 15 years. However, the majority of states limit legal action to 2-6 years for the same contractually defined debt. Each states’ specific allowable statutory time limitations and provisions can be obtained via state code or websites such as Nolo and CreditCards.com.
The federal government also has a statute of limitations on money owed to it. In regard to taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) generally has up to ten years to collect taxes and 3-6 years to assess additional taxes per the online CPA Journal. Moreover, also per the CPA Journal, the amount of extra tax assessed affects how long the IRS has to make that determination. State taxes also have collection limitations; after determining what those limitations are and if they apply to particular tax situations, then a determination of the redundancy of tax records can be made.
Organizing household records is a skill because if it is done well, it can provide quick access to a variety of valid documentations for multiple tasks such as filing taxes, applying for loans, documenting assets, confirming identity etc. With digital record-keeping, retaining useful financial records and copies of important documents for decades is more feasible, but not necessarily practical. This is because too many records can affect computer processing speed and those records may also be redundant in the sense they cannot serve a functional purpose.