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3 steps to tidy up your finances a la Marie Kondo

Key Points
  • Tidying up isn't just for closets and junk drawers. Financial advisors recommend purging old financial documents and records, too.
  • Since none of it sparks joy, here's a guide to determine what to keep and what to toss.
Marie Kondo teaches folding
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Marie Kondo's guiding principles — holding onto what brings you joy and letting go of the rest — can also apply to your paperwork.

"This is another category of items that you should be dealing with," said Tony Steuer, author of "Get Ready! A Step-by-Step Planner for Maintaining Your Financial First-Aid Kit."

"If you do it that way, it makes it a little more approachable as part of your greater tidying up."

However, despite the temptation to clean house, there are some things you shouldn't get rid of, he said. And since chances are, none of it sparks joy, here's a guide to determine what to keep and what to toss.

Keep

You should hold onto marriage certificates, separation or divorce papers, birth certificates, current passports, medical records, insurance policies (for as long as they're active), wills, Social Security cards, diplomas and transcripts, adoption and custody papers.

The same goes for your car title, registration and repair records, mortgage deeds, real estate bills of sale, receipts for home improvement projects, property appraisals and an itemized inventory of your household goods in case you ever need to settle an insurance claim.

For that reason, also keep receipts for large purchases like rugs, jewelry and artwork, as proof of their value.

Those items can all be kept indefinitely and in paper form, according to Janet Alvarez, executive editor of Wise Bread.

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The general rule of thumb is to keep tax returns, receipts for large purchases, pay stubs, brokerage summaries, credit card statements, settled student loan records and terminated rental agreements for up to seven years — the statute of limitations from the IRS. However, these items can all be stored electronically to reduce physical clutter.

The IRS can audit your returns for up to three years after you file if it determines you may owe additional tax, six years if it believes you underreported income by 25 percent or more and up to seven years if you file an incorrect claim for a capital loss from a worthless security or have bad debt.

Toss

"There's a misunderstanding that you need to keep all of your receipts," said Monica Sipes, a senior wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors in Frisco, Texas. "With the new tax law, those receipts are piling up for no good reason."

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated personal exemptions and nearly doubled the standard deduction to about $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married joint filers — which will likely result in fewer people taking itemized deductions on their 2018 returns.

If you were hoarding those proof of purchases in a shoebox with the hope of claiming a big break on your 2018 taxes, that can all be cleared out now — along with any other financial documents older than seven years.

Whatever you do get rid of should be shredded to protect your personal information, Alvarez advised. She suggests shredding those documents at a local public school or library.

Digitize

While you are at it, reduce the amount of paper overall by requesting all-electronic financial documents and interactions going forward, Alvarez said. Then, create a digital-based filing system for your finances.

These days, of course, most banks and lenders put account information online, allowing clients to check balances and transactions for the last few years. That includes credit card bills, brokerage summaries, savings accounts and student loan balances.

Steuer recommends storing year-end statements in an electronic file by calendar year with subfolders for credit cards, loan balances, retirement and savings accounts, and so on.

That will reduce the amount of paper clutter to nearly zero, a move Kondo would approve.

More from Personal Finance:
How to clean out a house (hint: Start now)
Here's how to save thousands with credits and deductions on your 2018 tax return
And the Number 1 cause of stress is ... money

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