Organizing Paperwork: Simple Filing System Outline For All Of Your Records

This article provides an outline for setting up and maintaining an easy-to-use filing system for your paperwork.

Setting up a filing system to organize your important papers is not as complicated as it sounds You'll probably want to set aside a block of two or three hours to get things rolling, but once your system is up and running, it will only take a few minutes a day to maintain it.


*A place to store your files. A file cabinet probably works best, but you can also use a crate, a plastic storage box, etc. A safe deposit box is a good idea for important personal papers.

*15-25 letter-sized hanging file folders

*50-100 file folders


If you are right-brained--that is, if you are artistic and creative and not fond of linear thinking--consider getting brightly-colored hanging files and folders so you can work out a color code.


Label your hanging files into broad, general categories. Use the folders for subcategories. For instance, a hanging file labeled PETS could contain separate file folders for each animal companion. No two people will have exactly the same overall categories, but here are some basic suggestions:

1. APARTMENT/HOME. Leases, rental agreements, deeds, mortgage information, home warranties, home insurance.

2. APPLIANCES. Instruction booklets, warranty information, receipts.

3. AUTOMOBILE. Title or lease agreement, insurance, repairs, warranty, loan information.

4. BANKING. Checking and savings account statements.

5. CHILDREN. One file folder per child for miscellaneous information.

6. CREDIT CARDS. One file folder per card.

7. EMPLOYMENT. Employee handbook, information about benefits package, annual reviews, pay stubs, current resumes.

8. HEALTH RECORDS. One file folder per family. If several members of your family have long, complex medical histories, you may require one hanging file per family member.

9. HEALTH INSURANCE. Use this file to track pending claims, claims that have been paid, and questions/appeals about denied claims. Again, if your family's medical history is complex, you may need one health insurance file for each family member.

10. INVESTMENTS. Each investment should have its own folder. If you have a lot of investments, each investment may need its own hanging file.

11. PERSONAL PAPERS. Include social security card, original living wills, original durable power of attorney papers, birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses, divorce papers, military service papers, life insurance information, original death certificate, etc. (NOTE: Since these papers can be difficult to replace, this file should be kept in a fire-resistant safe deposit box.)

12. PETS. Consider giving each pet its own folder to keep track of vet bills, shots, test results, etc.

13. PROFESSIONAL. Licensing information, continuing education credits, etc.

14. TAXES. Consider one hanging file for each tax year. As tax papers arrive, place them in the file. That way, you won't have to hunt them down when tax time rolls around.

15. TRAVEL. Trip itineraries, reservations, etc. Each trip deserves its own folder.

These are basic, generic categories. Experiment with them, throw some out and invent others. In other words, adapt them to your own unique family situation.


1. Keep it simple. The easier it is to file your papers away and to find them later when you need them, the more likely you will be to actually use your filing system.

2. A place for everything and everything in its place. File papers as you receive them. Don't create a stack to be filed "later." This defeats the whole purpose of your wonderful filing system!

3.Annual review. Make an appointment with yourself each year to go through your files and purge what is no longer necessary. In general, personal papers should never be destroyed and anything related to your taxes should be kept at least six years--when in doubt, consult your tax advisor. But you can shred information about a credit card you no longer carry, an appliance that has gone to junkyard heaven, or a trip that's been over for eight months.

Setting up and maintaining a personal file system is easy, and it can save you time and anxiety.

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