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How long should I keep old paperwork for?

Kara Gammell / 18 May 2016 ( 26 March 2020 )

Do you have cupboards and drawers full of old bills and documents? Read our guide to how long you should keep old bank statements, bills and paperwork:

Are you hanging on to too much paperwork?
Are you hanging on to too much paperwork?

Do you feel like you are drowning in documents? Has your home been consumed by seemingly never-ending mountains of old pay slips, bank statements and old bills?

If so, chances are you are hanging on to too much paperwork.

So what do we need to keep for a lifetime? And what can go straight in the shredder?

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Be ruthless

According to Marie Kondo, author of international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, you must be ruthless about what you keep.

Kondo suggests thinking about how often you go back to use the papers you are filing – when you consider research that suggests that 80% of the papers we keep are never looked at again, she seems to have a point.

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So how do I get started?

A good rule of thumb to think about when you're deciding what to keep is to think about how hard that document is to replace. For instance, birth and marriage certificates, copies of wills, Premium Bond certificates, share certificates, mortgage papers are all worth hanging on to.

While household bills and bank statements should be kept for at least two years, and insurance documents as long as they are valid.

When it comes to tax-related paperwork like payslips, P45s and so on, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) suggests keeping them for at least 22 months from the end of the tax year they relate to. So, as the tax year finishes on April 5, you’ll want to keep your relevant paperwork until at least January 31 two years later. What’s more, you should keep your records for at least 15 months after you sent the tax return.

Even if you don't normally complete a tax return you should hang on to any documents relating to capital gains for around two years after the end of the tax year they relate to, as this will aid calculation of capital gains and losses.

If you are self-employed, you must keep your records for at least five years after the 31 January submission deadline of the relevant tax year. HMRC may check your records to make sure you’re paying the right amount of tax.

Go online

One way to minimise financial clutter is to eliminate paperwork and do it all online. Simply sign up for online banking and household bill paying, saving statements to the hard drive.

What’s more, you might be able to grab yourself a better deal while you are at it.

In the savings market, for instance, there are many accounts that are internet only and because it is cheaper for banks when customers apply by this direct channel, the rates are often best-buy material and often better than branch-based products.

While online-only deals offered by your energy provider are usually around 10% cheaper than the rest.

If a company doesn’t offer this service, or you still prefer to have a copy yourself, then why not start to scan the paper statements into your computer, and create a file on the computer for each bill.

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For more tips and useful information, browse our money articles


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.