Filing systems and document retention is a living, breathing, evolving science. Each year brings changes and new challenges in the needs for document filing and retention requirements and guidelines.
Governments, organizations and businesses struggle to keep up with the ever changing flow of paperwork. Paperless systems are implemented and on average fail, because systems are not followed by everyone. Some people just have to print! Fear of loss and over taxed workloads hinder progress as the paperless war wages with the influx of scanner systems. The looming questions of what to retain and for how long, continue to consume untold resources for both paper and digital files.
With the onset of electronic communication, even more retention guideline planning is becoming necessary. Everything must be backed up from fragile devices to even more fragile devices and possibly backed up to a cloud-based back up system. Record retention guidelines need to be determined for electronic or digital files, as well as paper files.
First you have to decide what paper files to keep and how long to keep them. Begin by determining the purpose for retaining each document type. From the IRS website: How Long to Keep Records. The IRS (or your specific country government tax related organization) has updated information regarding how to keep records and how long to keep them for tax purposes. You can use this information as a guideline when planning your policy for document retention and how long to keep records, however you should always consult your accountant before getting rid of any financial records and consult your attorney before getting rid of any legal records for advice on the length of time specific documents are legally required to retain.
After the legally required time has been determined to keep each type of document, guidelines need to be documented so that everyone can follow the policy that has been set. You won’t have to guess every year what can be tossed or what has to be kept. It is important that everyone strictly follow the company guidelines, which should be determined by the legal requirements as stated above, because it can be just as legally damaging if a document is kept past the required time period.
With a simplified filing system such as Paper Tiger in place, this becomes an easy task. Paper Tiger Filing System Software for Document Management can help you get your records in order and then be able to find them when you need them! You can use the Action Date function to remind you when you need to take action on records, including when you need to move them out of the current year’s hanging file folders to an archived location, and then when you can purge them out of your files altogether. You can also note in Paper Tiger’s database how long you need to keep each file even if it is indefinite. Paper Tiger also has a report entitled File Cleanout Report that is helpful when moving documents from file cabinets to an archived location. Decision should be made when files are archived as to if and when they should be destroyed. Archived boxes should be marked as to when they should be destroyed.
According to N&K, CPAs, “The answer varies depending on firm policies and the type of files. Generally, the files should be kept as long as they serve a useful purpose or until all legal and regulatory requirements are met. Businesses often base how long they keep files on the length of the statute of limitations for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and professional liability claims. The statutes, of course vary with each state.”
And here is another example of a record retention guide published by the Massachusetts Society of CPAs: http://www.cpa.net/resources/retengde.pdf
Even more information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document_retention
With lawsuits and public scrutiny becoming increasingly popular, the need to substantiate actions with physical proof has grown dramatically. Notes and emails, which were once discarded, are now needed to prove the validity of corporate and government decisions. Subordinates should consider retaining any correspondence from superiors that may point to the rationale behind their decisions.
Many businesses base their customer retention on superior customer service. This includes maintaining easy access to copies of client records. Clients, just like the businesses that serve them, have the same problems as large corporations with document retention, and often find it simpler to request another copy of documentation from its source than to keep it on file, or to locate that file. Determining which documents are most often requested, as well as their age, will simplify the process of creating client record retention guidelines.
Financial documentation is retained for a multitude of reasons, taxes, efficiency, profitability, growth, tracking, accounting, etc., guidelines as to their storage location must be determined. Financial documentation must often be reassigned a new location with the passing of time. While this may seem futile, an indexing system such as Paper Tiger filing system software makes the process simple.
Almost all documentation falls under the category of proving accountability. Once the purpose of accountability for each document has been determined, it will be easier to decide on its association and to create a retention guideline. The value of accountability proof of many documents is not worth their retention; however, they may have many other uses.
Once the retention purpose for each document type has been established, its retention life and location can be determined. While document retention and creation of guidelines may seem overwhelming and even futile, an innovative indexing system such as Paper Tiger, allows companies to maintain their hard copy files and achieve near paperless efficiency, while providing the ability to adapt with the ever-evolving science of document retention.
It isn’t necessary to discard old files to implement an updated filing system, however with the motivation to get organized after determining a document retention guideline specifically related to how you work, you might find yourself clearing some clutter from your file cabinets. By implementing the perfect indexing tool of Paper Tiger filing system software, a higher level of filing efficiency and document retention can be achieved, and you’ll also be able to find what you need, when you need it!
It is that time of year again to get ready to clean out and dispose of those files and records you no longer need. Document management is an important tool for getting and staying organized, and keeps your filing cabinets from getting too full and over-flowing. Of course, much of it depends on whether you are cleaning out your filing system for your personal life or professional one. Either way, using an indexing filing system like Paper Tiger Filing System Software for document management, will help make your document review, tracking and disposal that much easier.
The important thing is to realize what documents you should keep and which ones you can dispose of. Income tax statements for example, should be kept forever. While you should keep supporting documents like receipts in case of an audit, for a minimum of seven years, the actual filings should be kept for good. Other records to keep indefinitely include anything of a legal nature and for businesses, all of your financial records.
There are some things you should keep for around three to five years. See articles at Records Retention: How long should you keep records? to assist you in making your personal records retention policy. Getting your paper files in order for proper document management is an ongoing process, but setting up your filing system so that it is easy to maintain will help you carry forward your momentum.
In order to keep your paper files in order, you of course need to file them first so that you can find them later, because retrieval when you need a file is most important, but you should know when you will be cleaning out your filing system as well. If it is only once a year, mark that date on your calendar so you have a goal date to start and to complete this task. It is a good idea however, to make sorting through your documentation on a more regular basis than annually or set action dates in Paper Tiger for when specific files should be tossed or archived at certain times throughout the year. Disposing of records, making sure they are in the right place or making sure paper files added are indexed into the filing system software database should be done on an as needed basis.
Sure, you may know what a filing system is, but you may not be familiar with an indexing system. This is a way for you to keep track of what records you have and where you can find them. No more confusing file names or forgetting which topic you filed your papers under. When you receive a new document, you type the name and keywords of what it could be filed under into the filing system software database. For example, instead of just “car repair bill” as a file name, you may also put automobile maintenance, vehicle work or Audi repairs as keywords. If it is the result of an insurance claim, you may even use that and the word accident as keywords, too.
Once you enter the data, you put the paper in the corresponding numbered file in your filing cabinet. When you’ve converted your filing system to Paper Tiger, and you need to find a file later, you simply conduct a Google-like search in the database for whatever keyword you’re thinking on that day to find where your file is located. This also makes disposing of papers from your document management system easy. Instead of pulling out each file and shuffling through each paper to see if you need it, you can read the list of which papers you have and decide from your computer screen which to keep. Or you can print a File Cleanout Report from Paper Tiger to make the decisions ahead of time or for an assistant to complete.
Implementing Paper Tiger Filing System Software for document management will help put a stop to over-flowing filing cabinets, so you’ll be better organized and more productive.
If you are one of those people who dreads tax time each year because of the hassle of getting your records together, it is time to put an end to that. It may not be tax time yet, but this is now the time to prepare and get ready for it. This year, make getting those tax records and other documentation a priority as well as a goal, and one you will accomplish. You make getting your records in order and keeping it that way by using a proper, efficient and effective filing system. Implementing Paper Tiger Filing System Software for document management will help you can carry the momentum forward once set up so that it will be easy to maintain your document management as well as be able to find anything in your office in 5 seconds or less.
Too many people keep their documents stacked up and unorganized which makes it difficult to make sense of or find the files when the need arises. For taxes and legal documentation, it is vital to keep these records well organized. Not only does it help for upcoming filings, it is essential in times of audits. Keep your past, present and future documents, receipts, and other crucial records so that you can file taxes, deal with audits or be prepared for subpoenas. The more organized your records, the easier this will be.
The best thing you can do for yourself is set up an effective indexing filing system. A traditional alphabetical filing system alone will still leave you frazzled and feeling overwhelmed. A lot of paper files are miscellaneous and difficult to think of that one or two word file name to put on the hanging file folder tab, so you’re afraid you won’t find it again if you file it. And the stacks just get larger. Or you forget that you’ve filed a similar document under one file name and so you create a duplicate hanging file under a different name. But once you set up your indexing system, your filing system method will be that much easier to use.
Indexing systems enable you to find all your records in a matter of seconds, saving you so much time and effort. You would first set up all hanging file folders in your file cabinets at one time using the numbered tabs that you print out from the software and they never change. You type in information relating to each document in the Paper Tiger’s database file location. Paper Tiger assigns the file number to the document or set of relating documents that you want to put in the same hanging file folder. You can give the document any name you want without any worry about finding it later. This is because the system will allow you to tag keywords that describe all documents that you put in your hanging file folders. For documents that you want to add to the same file, simply edit the Item and add additional keywords necessary for the new document(s).
When you’ve converted your filing system to Paper Tiger’s indexing method, and you need to find a file later, you simply conduct a Google-like search in the database for whatever keyword you’re thinking on that day to find where your file is located.
One thing very few people realize is how long they should keep certain records. Be it documentation for your personal life or professional life, you have to keep some of those records around. Of course, by using an indexing filing system, you can make a plan for how long your records should be kept, and when you know when the paper files can be tossed, it will be easier to declutter your life. There are certain documents you must keep and others which are optional and certainly up to what you want to keep and for how long. So when you know when a file could or should be tossed, then it will save you time in the long run.
Income tax returns and payment checks for example, should be kept, always. You should also plan on keeping stock records, retirement and pension records, as well as legal documents forever, just to name a few. Some records that you should hold on to for a minimum of six years are purchase records, supporting documents for tax returns such as receipts, and accident reports and claims. Again, this is just a short list from a wide range of documents you should keep filed away for at least six years.
For a three-year period, some records you may want to keep include credit card statements, medical bills and any expired insurance policies. Other records you should check on before disposing of. Of course you may also have documents you want to keep. Car records, for example, you would keep until you sell or get rid of the automobile. Also, things like property records should be kept, even for a period following the sale of the land or property.
See our other articles with specific lists for what you should keep and for how long under Retention Guidelines: How long should you keep records?
The bottom line is, when you get organized it makes it that much easier to stay organized. Declutter your life with Paper Tiger Filing System Software for document management to help make sense of it all. Don’t put it off any longer – simplify your life and organize your home or office by getting started on this project right away.
Document Management – How Long Do I Have To Keep My Paper Files?
by Ramona Creel
At work, at home, no matter who you are or what you do — we are all bombarded with paper. Some days, as I help clients sort through their mail, I’m amazed that we have any trees left on this planet at all! Junk mail, bills, magazines, newspapers, memos, reports — it’s an endless source of stress. Things have gotten so bad that we’re developing a new fear in our society — “paperphobia,” the fear of having to deal with that stack that’s been sitting there for a week. But a good document management system is the key to overcoming your paper-induced worries!
Thinning The Herd
Remember the first rule of clutter — “the less you have, the easier it is to organize.” The paperless office is still a long way off — I can’t guarantee that you will ever be able to eliminate paper from your life completely, but you can certainly reduce the size of the piles. Let’s start by going through your old files and doing some cleaning out. I believe strongly that if you don’t have a good reason for keeping it, get rid of it — but a lot of folks are afraid to ever throw a document away because they might need it again “someday.” How do you define “someday?” I suggest that my clients ask themselves some basic questions about why they are keeping their paper:
That last question leads us to the subject of purging financial and legal records. This is a sensitive (and somewhat scary) issue, because there could be some harsh consequences if you throw something out too soon. I agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry, but fear is a poor organizing guide. If you simply take the time to educate yourself about how long you are legally required to retain each document, you’ll never go wrong. Effective document management is all about having the right information and acting on that knowledge.
Records Retention Guidelines
In recent years, an entirely new field of study called “records management” has arisen — dedicated to helping people understand how long they must keep certain documents. Based on the information gathered by this industry, I have compiled standard schedule for purging your files. But please understand that this is a complicated issue (especially in today’s litigious society), and each situation is unique. Many professions set their own legal guidelines for records retention, and you may have some unusual or extenuating circumstance in your life — so check with your accountant or attorney before pitching out any important legal, business, or financial paperwork.
You must keep the following documents forever (yes, forever!):
Businesses are held accountable to a much stricter set of rules than individuals. In addition, specific industries set their own legal standards, including but not limited to healthcare, insurance, law, etc. In addition to the items listed above, all companies should create permanent files for the following, but be sure to ask your professional association for any additional policies for record management and retention.
Hold onto the following paperwork for six years. The IRS may go back 6 years to audit your tax returns for errors or incorrectly claimed deductions, so it’s important to keep all tax-related documents.
Keep these records for three years:
You should retain these records according to the following guidelines:
Safely Disposing Of Paper
Just because you cleaned it out, does not mean that it goes in the trash! Did you realize that once you put something in a garbage can at the curb, it becomes public property? And reports of identity theft are increasing every day. When someone else gains access to your personal records (social security number, tax id, drivers license number, address, bank account information) and pretends to be you, the results can be disastrous. Using your identifying information, this person can take out loans, run up credit card bills, and run up a tremendous amount of debt — all in your name. And most times, you never know until you get the collection letter. It can take years to clear up the legal and financial problems this causes you, and it can temporarily ruin your credit. Proper document management is synonymous with safety.
So to protect yourself from this threat, be sure to dispose of your important records properly. Any piece of paper that contains account numbers, your social security number, or any other sensitive information should be shredded. If you only have a small amount of paper to destroy, consider visiting your local office supply store to pick up a personal shredder — they run as little at $20 or $30. If you generate a large quantity of “shredable” paper, or just don’t want to sit there feeding in one page at a time, think about using a mobile shredding service. These companies will come to your home or office and shred your documents on-site for a fee. Just be sure that you choose a reputable company that provides you with a certificate or letter guaranteeing that your paper has been shredded unrecognizable.
Welcome To The Digital Age
In order for your filing system to be truly effective, it should really have two components — a paper side combined with electronic document management software. Software such as Paper Tiger Filing System Software for Document Management is designed to save you time and effort when you are ready to either file or retrieve your paper files. You simply indicate where that item is stored and assign it a series of relevant keywords. Then you never need worry about misplacing a file again. Simply search by the name of the document or one of the keywords and voila! If you’re filing the old-fashioned way without document management software, you’re working too hard!
About the Author
Ramona Creel is Professional Organizer, NAPO Golden Circle Member, and the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. A former Social Worker, she has always enjoyed helping people find the resources and solutions they need to improve their lives. Ramona now travels the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of simplicity with everyone she meets. She leads by example — having worked for more than 10 years as a Professional Organizer, and having radically downsized and simplified her own life as a full-time RVer. Ramona now considers herself a “Renaissance Woman” — bringing all of her passions together into one satisfying career. As a “Virtual Organizer”, she can create a customized organizing plan for your home or office. As a “Simplicity and Accountability Coach “, Ramona provides a proven program for making every area of your life a little bit easier — perfect for those who want to make the time and space to focus on their true priorities. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a freelance writer and blogger, she shares organizing techniques, travel tips, and social commentary with others. You can see all these sides of Ramona — read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order — at www.RamonaCreel.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, check out her Facebook profile, and subscribe to her blog feeds.
Whatever your document management issues, Paper Tiger Document Management and Filing System Software is the ideal solution to help you control the paper flow in your company.
Some businesses have so many files that they must consolidate at times. They may have rules that state that files can be moved to basement storage periodically, to an offsite location, storage shed, or a corporate storage location. When this happens, how do you handle the filing on those still important, yet archived, files? Let’s consider…
1. Basement Storage
Whether you store your files in a file room, unused office, or a basement storage room, you need to keep track of them with your filing system. Some people may think you can’t use an indexing system with archived files, but that’s far from the truth.
Document management via an indexing system makes more sense now than ever because your files are farther away from your “regular” office space. This means you’d have to go further to find the files you need, which of course takes more time and creates added expense.
When you index archived files in remote storage areas, you’ll be able to search the Paper Tiger database to find where the file is located, then go right to the location, pull the file, and be able to get back to work with the file in hand. Then you can quickly return the file to the same location when finished.
An indexing system handles the information required so you know which files are in the basement or other storage area compared to the file room. There’ll never be confusion as to where a file is located with an indexing document management system.
2. Offsite Storage Location
Offsite storage locations can be different than other storage areas. The main reason being you don’t have the ability to easily browse where your files are in those storage facilities. Using indexing to manage your documents stored in an offsite location, you can manage these files the same way as any others. Note the location of the files, add keywords to help you index them and file as needed. The hardest task then will be beating the traffic in your drive to find a file.
3. Storage Shed or Unit
Some businesses use storage units either on location or within a locked gate at a different facility. With this type of storage, you’ll want to use shelves so archived file boxes aren’t directly on the floor. Shelves will protect the files and still allow you to use your indexing file system easily.
For best results, mark each shelf so you’ll know specifically where boxes are located. You can, of course, use file cabinets, but you might not want to purchase new cabinets when you move files to archived storage. Metal shelves will work just fine while still allowing you easy access to your documents.
4. Corporate Storage Location
At times when corporations have small divisional offices, they may not have the room to store archived files, and they don’t want to send them to an offsite storage location. In this case, those files may be sent to the corporate office for safekeeping.
When this happens you can use the same indexing system you’re currently using, even though the files aren’t in the same location. You manage it the same way you would with any other offsite storage location. Simply note the location, the box number and keywords in your index file and you’re good to go. Document retrieval is a cinch, regardless of where your files are stored.
One advantage with corporate storage is that you will typically be able to contact someone in the corporate office and ask them to send you any files you need without you having to make a trip to the office. With another offsite storage location, that wouldn’t work, of course.
At times businesses may run into storage problems and will need to move files around to accommodate space or a change in facilities. Using an indexing system for your document management needs will make this an easy transition and still allow you needed access to your files.
Whatever method you use to archive files, be sure and use the Action Date function in Paper Tiger to remind you when these archived files need to be pulled and destroyed based on your company’s records retention policy. If you don’t already have a records retention policy, see our ‘Retention Guidelines: How long should you keep records?‘ articles that might be helpful to you.
Try Paper Tiger Document Management and Filing System Software today and see for yourself!