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Taxes done? Now it’s time to shred — carefully

Beware: Guidelines on destroying documents vary according to type

POSTED: May 4, 2013 12:19 a.m.

You’ve filed your taxes and had time to catch your breath from that, but now you may be wondering what to do with those documents.

“The life cycle of a record varies,” said Jerry Boling, CEO of Document Destruction Services in Gainesville. “It’s hard to find a list of how long you should keep a document because it varies.”

Boling said a common recommendation is to keep tax records for four years, except for mortgage documents, which should be kept for seven years. Experts, however, may disagree about how long particular records should be kept, he said.

For businesses, professional associations offer the best advice on how long to keep records.

“If you’re in the medical field, some of the medical associations will offer advice on how long to keep records; if you’re in the educational field, some of the educational associations” will provide that information, he said.

“Generally speaking, the length of time a record should be kept is determined by what kind of record it is,” Boling said.

Boling said small businesses need to be aware of what papers are being thrown away.

“Sometimes in small businesses, (staff) will make a copy and they’re not happy with that copy and they’ll make another one,” he said. “That (first) copy will go into the waste stream, and that can cause a breach (of confidential information). Then it’s important to shred those records because (the business) is responsible for how those records were disposed of.”

Brochures handed out by Boling’s business include tips for how to address the issue with employees.

Employers should address the issue as soon as employees are hired, providing them the necessary training before it becomes a problem. It’s also helpful to provide instructions in writing so expectations are clear. Consequences of improperly disposing items should also be made clear. And the message should be repeated, not just said once and forgotten, according to the brochure materials.

Fear of identity theft drives much of the concern about privacy and proper disposal of documents, Boling said, citing the banking industry as an example.

He said bank tellers often make notes for themselves as they’re working, and incidental notes and records like that need to be disposed of daily.

“We have a lot of banks as clients,” Boling said, “and everything they do at a teller station goes into one of our bins.”

“At one time, as long as a record was usable you were responsible for that record,” he said, but when the record was no longer useful, “you could throw it away.

“But now Georgia has a privacy law, and you’re held responsible for how dispose of that record.”

Boling said the law states a record must be rendered unreadable, but most businesses prefer to shred rather than try other methods to do that.

“You have to be very vigilant in how you protect a record,” he said, “and keep a record of how you disposed of it.”


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