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Investing with William Creekbaum: Grappling with your household paper chase

William Creekbaum
For the Nevada Appeal

All it takes is some time, energy and a willingness to let go. Now that tax time has passed, what to do with that foot-high stack of last year’s statements? And how about those “vital documents” you had drafted, only to throw them in your bottom desk drawer?

While you may be tempted to box everything up and condemn it to a basement shelf, I don’t have to tell you that you know better. Consider what I personally recommend for neatly and securely organizing essential papers – and lessening the chances of your Last Will and Testament being sold at your next garage sale along with that perfect set of National Geographic magazines.

CATEGORY #1: KEEP

IT FOREVER

Documents in this group include birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, vehicle titles, the deed to your home and your Social Security card. They’re best stored in a fireproof box.

CATEGORY #2: PUT A TIME STAMP ON IT

These documents are difficult – if not impossible – to re-create. Chief among them: your last seven years of state and federal tax returns, plus their supporting documents. Lest this portion of your papers balloon out of control, make it a rule to always let go of those Year 8 documents as you make room for the current set. Headed for the shredder this season: 2003. Other papers in this category include receipts for major purchases, especially those under warranty, and home improvement records, which you’ll need when you sell your house. It’s also wise to hold on to annual brokerage and retirement account statements for at least the past three years.

CATEGORY #3: SHRED IT NOW

Good news: Utility bills, credit card statements and even monthly bank statements are great shredder fodder once paid or reconciled – unless you’re tracking home office expenses or other tax-related transactions. Also shred credit card offers and any other mail containing personal information. Though a paperless household is really the stuff of science fiction stories, these categories can at least get your files out of sight and into logical order.

Keep the Records. Lose the paper. Cut down on future clutter. Ask your financial consultant how to unclutter your life with electronic delivery of your brokerage statements. With electronic delivery you can get rid of bulky statements and unwanted paper and receive an e-mail notification when statements, trade confirmations and prospectuses, general correspondence, forms 1099, and proxies are available for viewing online. It’s simple, it’s usually free and it helps eliminate paper clutter and reduces the risk of identity theft.

Managing your paperwork will help you understand the health of your personal finances.

• William Creekbaum, MBA, CFP, a Washoe Valley resident, is senior investment management consultant of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. He can be reached at William.a.creekbaum

@mssb.com or 689-8704.