Editorial Policy

What exactly you should shred for security reasons

Allie Johnson

June 11, 2014

I’ve owned a shredder for about five years, and the excitement of having a new shredder wore off long ago. Now, destroying documents is a chore I often put off.

That’s partly because using a small home shredder can be annoying: Feeding documents takes time, and the waste collection tub fills up quickly.

But it’s also because I’m never sure what needs to be shredded, and I tend to err on the side of shredding too much. Somehow, even junk mail addressed to “resident” finds its way to the pile by the shredder. I recently went through my to-shred box and saw that only a quarter of what was in there needed to be destroyed.

So, I set out on a mission to find out: Exactly what should you shred, and when? Here’s a handy list of items that should get shredded before being tossed:

  1. Credit card offers. It’s a good idea to shred credit card offers or applications, according to DailyFinance.com. While card offers don’t always contain all of the information a stranger might need to get credit in your name, they could tempt an unscrupulous family member.
  2. Pay stubs. Your pay stubs contain personal information that an ID thief would love to get his hands on. Keep your pay stubs until you get your yearly W-2 wage and tax statement from your employer. Check the W-2 for accuracy, then put your stubs through the shredder, certified public accountant Rob Seltzer recommends.
  3. Health insurance explanation of benefits. When you visit the doctor or have a procedure, you get an explanation of benefits (EOB) form from your insurer that contains sensitive medical information, such as which health care provider you visited, when and why. Professional organizer Suzanne Kuhn writes that you should keep EOBs for a year if you don’t qualify for a deduction, the bills have been paid in full and you are no longer being treated for the condition. You need to keep the documents considerably longer otherwise.
  4. Doctor bills. When you no longer need medical bills for your personal records, you should put them through the shredder, according to DataShield, a document destruction company.
  5. Statements you no longer need. Keep canceled checks that support tax deductions or any you think might be helpful, says BB&T. Otherwise, they take a lot of space. Keep statements for about three years.
  6. Old tax returns. Once you’ve kept a tax return for the recommended three to seven years, you definitely want to shred it, according to H&R Block. A tax return contains reams of sensitive information, including your Social Security number.
  7. Expired IDs. Don’t leave your old driver’s license, passport or other picture ID lying around: shred them instead, DataShield recommends. It says even expired IDs can be useful to criminals. (First make sure your shredder can handle these items, though.)
  8. Old insurance documents. Keep current insurance policies, but shred your old ones, Consumer Reports recommends.
  9. Investment statements you no longer need. Keep your annual investment statements as long as you own the investments, but shred monthly and quarterly 401(k), IRA and other statements when new ones arrive, Consumer Reports recommends. Also, says BB&T, keep investment records to to support your tax returns. “Documentation of purchases and sales (either confirmations or brokerage statements including the information) must be kept for three years past when you report the sale on your tax return.”

Now that I know what to shred, I plan to stay more on top of my document shredding and recycle all paper clutter that doesn’t contain sensitive information. I hope shredding regularly will make the task much less of a hassle.