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Keeping Your Financial Records Secure

When a family emergency or disaster occurs, having quick access to important financial documents is essential. These documents include banking information, insurance cards and policies, wills and power of attorney documents, household inventory, and birth and marriage records. This article will address what are the important financial records, where to keep financial records secure, how long to keep records, and how to create a Grab and Go box.

What are important financial records?

  • Household papers – birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce documents, wills, power of attorney documents.
  • Ownership documents – deeds, mortgage documents, investment documents, car titles.
  • Contracts – work related and property related.
  • Insurance policy numbers, credit card and bank account numbers, passwords.

Where to securely keep your records?  

Wallet or Purse

A wallet or purse is the place to keep documents that may be needed on a regular or immediate basis. The following should be kept in your wallet or purse.

  • Driver’s license or identification card.
  • One or two credit cards.
  • Health insurance or Medicare or Medicaid card, medical information.
  • Passport and/or citizenship documents.

Home Filing System

A home filing system can be file drawers, file boxes, or a CD or USB drive. Keep the documents updated and destroy documents that are no longer needed. Consider these categories.

  • Current files – Monthly bank and credit card statements, bills to pay.
  • Permanent files – Documents to keep indefinitely (insurance policies, ownership documents, etc.).
  • Dead storage files – Files that are not needed but you want to keep.

Safe Deposit Box

Safe deposit box or home safe should be used for documents that are difficult or impossible to replace. Consider using a fireproof, waterproof, and burglar proof product. Remember that for a safe deposit box at a financial institution, only the person listed on the account will have access.

How long to keep records?

  • Temporarily: Items awaiting action (bills).
  • One year: Documents with a limited life (household budget, bank statements, insurance policies).
  • Multiple Years: Records for proof of payments or transactions, tax returns (3-6 years or longer), title of car until sold, receipts for home improvements until house is sold, deeds until property is sold or transferred.
  • Indefinitely: Payment or original records that do not change (birth certificates, marriage license).

Keep a list of where records are kept. It is a good practice to keep one copy of the list in home files, one copy in a safe, and share with a trusted family member where the list is kept.

Creating a ‘Grab-and-Go’ Box

A 'grab-and-go' box is a file that contains important documents that may be needed in an emergency or disaster, such as a flood, fire or another natural disaster. Having a grab-and-go box will help a family rebuild if records are destroyed and provide access to important family information.

Items that should be included in a grab-and-go box are:

  • Prescriptions for both medical and eyeglasses.
  • Insurance policies and cards.
  • Copy of the front and back of credit cards so you have the contact information for the company.
  • Cash or traveler’s checks.
  • Immunization records.
  • Tax forms from the past two years.
  • A household inventory.
  • Copy of a will and other estate planning documents.
  • Copies of birth certificates, marriage license, and property deeds/titles.

Store the box is an accessible location, such as near the front door. Make sure all family members know what records are in the box and where it is located. The container should be durable and waterproof.

In Summary

When an emergency occurs, there isn’t a lot of time to think about anything other than the immediate situation and keeping your family safe. Taking time now to organize your financial, property, and family documents and creating a Grab and Go Box will ease the stress and anxiety that is experienced during the situation.