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Now is the time to organize family household records (02/26/2006)
by Glenice Johnson

University of Minnesota Extension Service

With tax time approaching, people are gathering the documents and receipts necessary for filling their income tax returns. Some households can easily find such papers in an organized home filing system, while others search frantically through boxes, drawers, bags and vehicles. If you find yourself in the latter category, use tax time as an incentive to organize important papers.

A well-organized, complete record-keeping system gives you many benefits:

Less time spent in preparing income tax returns, with receipts for possible deductions.

Help to obtain insurance compensation or replace stolen/lost possessions if your home is damaged or burglarized.

In emergency situations, help for others in locating papers for settling estates, filing insurance or benefit claims--and reduced family stress.

Proof of ownership, satisfaction of debts and other transactions.

Easier, faster on-going household financial management--budgets, bill paying, tracking of bank accounts and investments, and more.

Getting started can be overwhelming. Begin now by pulling out all those records and papers you have stored in various places and sorting them into categories--unpaid bills; receipts; insurance policies; and records for banking, real estate, vehicles, education, employment and medical and legal documents.

Next, set up your record keeping place. It can be a two-or four-drawer filing cabinet, a portable file box or accordion folders. One section of your filing system will be for "current files"--folders used regularly, such as unpaid bills, paid receipts, bank statements, credit card information, and employment and benefit records.

Another section will be for "permanent files" - individual folders for on-going records needed for reference and updating changes. This includes investments, property owned, loans, insurance policies, family health records, employment records (including benefits, retirement plans, Social Security), appliance manuals and warranties, income tax working papers, household inventory, copies of wills, power of attorney and other legal documents. Finally, establish a "dead storage file" of records more than three years old, such as income tax returns and records, property records, and legal transactions/documents.

A safe deposit box is recommended as secure storage for papers that are difficult or expensive to replace: birth, marriage and death certificates, divorce decrees, wills, deeds, property abstracts, stock certificates, vehicle titles, military papers and passports.

Finally, develop an index or "roadmap" to your filing system, with a list of important contact people--your employer, banker, attorney, insurance office, doctor and immediate family contact. Share your system with other household/family members so they could find essential information efficiently and effectively.

(Glenice Johnson is a family resource management educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Regional Center, Crookston) 


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