How long you should keep your bank and credit card statements depends on how you receive them.
- If you do not have an online bank account and still receive bank statements in the mail, keep the paper for 12 months.
- If you have an online bank account and don't get paper statements, you'll be able to review or print your records whenever they're needed. The banks keep their records accessible for much longer than a year.
Either way, you should review your statements at least once a month to make sure there are no ugly surprises in there.
When You Need the Records
About two-thirds of Americans now use digital banking, either via a phone app or on a personal computer. More than half continue to get their bank and credit card statements by mail, though. Not surprisingly, older consumers are much more likely to prefer paper documents.
There may be some satisfaction in seeing the actual piece of paper that you signed, although such documentation doesn't exist for electronic purchases.
In any case, whether you have a paper filing system or access your records online, there may come a time when you'll need your old statements for any of several reasons.
- Most bank statements should be kept accessible in hard copy or electronic form for one year, after which they can be shredded.
- Anything tax-related such as proof of charitable donations should be kept for at least three years.
- In any case, review your latest statement at least once a month to check for any errors or fraud.
How Long Should You Keep Your Statements?
If you haven't opted out of monthly bank statements by mail, keep them for a minimum of one year. If your account is online-only, review the deposits and withdrawals monthly to make sure they're correct.
Alternatively, if you're great at data entry, you can record your income and expenses in a bookkeeping program or a spreadsheet.
After one year, it's safe to shred and discard the paper with one big exception: Anything that documents a tax deduction should be kept for at least three years. The IRS says it rarely goes back farther than that in audits, although it reserves the option to do so.
If your account is online, the records will be either archived online or available by special order from the bank or financial institution. American Express, for example, keeps three years worth of account transactions online and searchable. Chase Bank users can access seven years of account activity.
Why You Should Keep the Statements
Access to a record of your recent purchases, bill payments, and payroll deposits is necessary for a number of reasons, not least as a proof of payment in case of a dispute.
You should review your bank account activity regularly for evidence of identity theft and debit card fraud. The statements provide verification of illicit activity and are used to recover any damages.
For Tax Purposes
You may need your bank statements when you do your income taxes in order to verify your income and costs such as charitable contributions and business expenses.
Bank account statements confirming large purchases or payments may also be worth keeping. For example, you might need proof of purchase to file an insurance claim or use a warranty.
You can shred automated teller machine (ATM) receipts once you reconcile them with your account records. Deposit and withdrawal slips can be shredded once transactions are verified with the monthly statement.
Online vs. Hard Copy Statements
Many banks maintain monthly customer statements online for at least five years and they are easily accessible through their online banking apps and sites. These statements usually come in printable formats. Summaries of transaction information are frequently available for download.
You may be able to get hard copy statements from your bank going back a number of years. Some banks charge a search and printing fees for this service, as it cannot be done at the branch level. Older statements are handled in a back office.
For safety, it's best to keep any hard copy bank statements in a fireproof safe in a secure location. Electronic statements should be maintained in a password-protected file.
Use password protection for electronic files. Hard copy statements should be kept in a secure, fireproof location that can be easily accessed.
It may seem easier to just keep your records forever rather than setting aside time to organize them. It's not a great idea, though, primarily because of the potential for identity thieves to get them.
Documents that should be shredded include the following:
- Credit Card Statements: Keep them for 60 days unless they include tax-related expenses. In these cases, keep them for at least three years.
- Pay Stubs: Match them to your W-2 once a year and then shred them.
- Utility Bills: Hold on to them for a maximum of one year.
- Tax Returns and Tax Receipts: Just like tax-related credit card statements, keep these on file for at least three years.
- House and Car Insurance Policies: Shred the old ones when you receive new policies.
- Mortgage Statements and Home Improvement: Shred these when you sell the house.
How to Shred Your Documents
When you're ready to dispose of your bank statements, make sure you actually shred them. Just ripping them in half, isn't going to stop identity thieves from piecing together your personal information. Shredders are now small, portable, and cheap.
If your paper volume is enormous, shredding services can be bought. Some banks will shred your statements for free on request.