If you’re feeling overwhelmed by years of paperwork, take heed. You may be able to lighten your load when it comes to your credit card statements.
Experts suggest that credit cardholders should keep their personal credit card statements for a minimum of 60 days. But how long all that extra paper (or those extra bytes) should be kept around can change depending on what a credit card is used for and whether the cardholder relies on hard copies or online statements (or both).
For many people, keeping credit card statements for at least 60 days is likely long enough. It’s important to double-check and confirm purchases made against receipt copies or other proofs of purchase. Reviewing each monthly statement also helps prevent any surprises, find mistakes, and identify signs of identity theft or fraud.
According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers have up to 60 days to report signs of fraud or other billing errors to credit card servicers, but the sooner they can, the better. Saving credit card statements also remains useful for tracking spending habits and maintaining a budget.
It may be advisable to keep statements for longer than 60 days for other reasons:
- If the cardholder relies only on paper copies, some experts suggest keeping copies of credit card statements for up to 12 months. This is useful not only for tracking spending habits, but also in case any unexpected issues arise later.
- If a charge on a specific credit card statement is in dispute, it’s always a good idea to hold on to the statement until the dispute has been resolved. This can take 30 to 90 days depending on the situation and credit card company.
- If a purchase is expected to result in a statement credit, keep the statement that shows proof of purchase until the credit is received. For example, a travel rewards card might give a statement credit for signing up for TSA PreCheck or other eligible travel expenses.
- Some credit cards provide extended warranties on eligible purchases, such as TVs or speaker systems. Keep the credit card statement that shows the proof of purchase for as long as the extended warranty is meant to last. For example, if the purchased TV has a two-year warranty, and the used credit card grants an additional year, keep the relevant statement for three years.
- Some credit cards provide return protection for eligible purchases. Keep the statement for however long the protection lasts.
Tax-related expenses are a very important reason to keep credit card statements for longer than 60 days. This might be especially helpful for those using business credit cards. The IRS retains the right to audit anyone’s financial history for up to six years. In this case, it’s wise to keep credit card statements for at least three years, preferably six if there is a very high risk of audit. Credit card statements are vital to prove any business expenses, large purchases or payments (of several thousands of dollars) or tax deductions like charitable donations.
Keeping statements in a safe place is critical in any case. Most credit card companies offer online account access that enables account holders to access their statements for at least one year. Some popular companies offer a longer statement history. For example, Chase allows account holders to search up to seven years of statements. Bank of America allows searching for up to three years of statements.
Best practice involves downloading each month’s statement and saving it in a password-protected file. There’s no guarantee that a credit card servicer will keep statements for longer than they advertise. Statements may not even be easily accessible by a simple search. Downloading statements at least once a month will also come in handy if the account holder ever decides to close an account. Often, credit card statements will no longer be accessible after the account is closed.
For those who rely on paper statements, it’s important to organize and file hard copies in a safe place. Experts recommend a fireproof, lockable safe that is stored in a safe place. Always label statements with month, year and any other important notes to remember. Accordion file systems come in handy to keep everything organized for those who don’t want bulky filing cabinets yet need to avoid what I like to call the “fire hazard desk.”
After credit card statements become old news, the next step is to get rid of old copies. Online statements can be kept on a hard drive for as long as necessary, then can be permanently deleted to free up storage space.
Paper copies require a bit more effort to dispose of. Believe it or not, dumpster divers who find old credit card statements in trash cans or landfills can steal your identity with their newfound “treasure.” The best way to prevent identity theft is to shred every statement before it’s thrown away. Shredders can be bought cheaply on online retailers like Amazon. Office suppliers like FedEx or Office Depot also offer shredding services for a fee. Shredding old credit card statements (and other important financial documents) is crucial for protecting account numbers, names, addresses and especially social security numbers.
Keeping and organizing credit card statements may sound and for many is quite boring, but it’s important to review financial records in order to prevent any surprises. Getting audited by the IRS or losing thousands of dollars due to fraud is much less fun than filing a bit of paperwork. Make sure to download online statements every month and shred paper copies when they’re no longer needed.