How To Safely Store Your Most Important Documents

Whether you’re starting a new job or applying for a passport, there are times you will need to access important documents like a birth certificate or a social security card. Many times, people store their personal documents somewhere safe, only to forget where they are when they really need them or they worry that something will happen to the documents when they’re in storage. But, there are simple ways to ensure that your documents stay safe from thieves and natural disasters.

6 important documents that you need to keep securely stored

  1. Social security cards: If a thief were to get a hold of your social security card, they could easily steal your identity and even file your taxes. This card is a gateway to identity theft and should be protected.
  2. Tax returns: Just because you’ve received your tax return check doesn’t mean you should toss those documents. The IRS recommends keeping your returns in a safe place for three years at minimum. Keep the returns for seven years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.
  3. Passports: If your passport is stolen, not being able to travel internationally is only part of the problem. The U.S. Passport Service Guide reports passport theft is often linked to illegal immigration, smuggling and even international terrorism. If your passport is stolen, you should file a police report. Keeping it in a secure place is vital.
  4. Wills: It’s a document you probably don’t think about often. While one copy is likely kept with an attorney, it’s important to have a second one kept safe in the event something happens to you. You’ll want to make sure your family also knows where it’s kept so that your wishes are followed in the event of an emergency or death.
  5. Birth or adoption certificates: Maybe you’re registering your child for school or applying for a passport. There are multiple situations where you may need to provide a copy of one of these certificates, so it’s important to keep it somewhere safe.
  6. Marriage certificates: You’ll need access to this document when you apply for joint health benefits, apply for a mortgage and even potentially for filing taxes. You’ll want to know where this document is at all times.

How to keep important documents safe

Now that you know which important documents you need to secure, you may be asking yourself, “Where should I keep my social security card and other documents?” Here are three storage options that will help keep them safe.

Fireproof safes

It’s not only important to find a way to secure your items under lock and key. You should also think about buying a fireproof safe in case of a house fire. This fireproof safe from SentrySafe will keep your important items safe from fire complete with a mechanism that prevents the safe from opening in a fire. For a little bit more money, you can invest in a safe that is both fire-resistant and waterproof, like this model from First Alert.

Safe deposit boxes

This is likely the safest way to store your important documents. A safe deposit box is generally located at a bank which has full time security. If you’re storing in a safe at home, you have more of a possibility of theft. However, keeping your important items in a safe deposit box can become complicated. You can only access the box during bank hours, so if you suddenly need your passport or an important document like a will, you’ll have to wait until the doors open to access them. It can also become difficult to access the box in an emergency if you are incapacitated. You may want to appoint one person to have access to the safe deposit box in case you aren’t physically able to get there.

Plastic sleeves

No matter where you store your important documents, adding an extra layer of protection is a good idea. These will prevent wear and tear, and also keep them safe from spills or accidents once they are taken out of the safe where they’re stored. Here is an affordable option from Avery that include a corner lock tab to keep the items from falling out.

When and how to destroy important documents

Sometimes keeping your important information safe means disposing of the paperwork. Items like your birth certificate, social security card and other identification should be kept indefinitely. But saving documents you don’t really need takes up space, and makes it tougher to find the documents you really need. That’s why purchasing a shredder or utilizing a shredding company is a great way to get rid of documents. You don’t want to throw them away because thieves could potentially access the information and steal your identity.

Here are some documents you should consider shredding:

  • Inactive credit card agreements
  • Old insurance policies
  • Old credit reports
  • Old medical records
  • Tax returns older than 7 years

When it comes to storing important documents, keeping them in a secure location is key. Utilizing a safe in your home or safe deposit box is the simplest way to ensure your information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. And in some cases, destroying old documents is better than keeping them. Decide which mode of protection is best for your lifestyle and needs, and take the steps to secure them as soon as possible.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.

Officer James Banta

Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.