Credit Card Statements – Keep or Toss Away?

Where do you keep your card statements? Do you file them by account or toss them into a drawer? Many of us look at our statements as a reminder of a payment due.

We know we should check the bill carefully but sometimes we don’t find time to do that. Once the payment is made we toss aside the bill or discard it.

Your billing and payment history are often available now at the lender’s website online. However, it’s not wise to count on the lender’s site to prove your tax deductions for purchases or to prove a purchase should you require a refund on something you’ve purchased.

Managing credit card purchases and credit debt requires you to organize your financial papers in a way that allows you to find what you need quickly and to know what is going on with each credit card you carry.

If you are stressed about bills that are due or worried about credit card debt, it is common to simply toss your bills in a drawer unopened and make the minimum payments shown on the lender’s site.

This is the worst thing a consumer can do. Interest rates change, payment dates may change and there may be errors on your statements. To manage credit in a responsible way, you need to understand how to read the bill you are sent.

This is easy as most lenders either mail you explanations or have a page on their website that explains how to interpret your monthly statements.

How Long Should You Keep Financial Statements?

If you use your credit cards for business expenses or buy items you can claim as deductible on your tax forms, you need to keep those statements for 7-10 years. If you are audited for taxes, you will need to be able to prove every deduction you claimed.

Don’t Count on the Lender to Provide Information Later

It is unlikely your lender will display 7-10 years of your statements online. Most banks limit past statements displayed to 6 months or one year.

Most credit lenders have the ability to provide past statements but requirements for record keeping are not the same for consumers and lenders.

If your bank is able to provide past statements you need, they may charge you for doing so and may not be able to provide the information quickly.

Another consideration is that banks often are sold or merged with larger banks. This can make it more difficult to obtain records from previous bank management and add to fees charged for providing old statements. It’s also possible the bills from five or six years ago may not be available to you.

Keeping Physical Records of Expenditures

If you have taken the option of online billing you need to print out the bill each month for your files. Have a file for each of your creditors and place the monthly printout in that file with the latest bill in front of the previous one.

Before filing those bills for future reference, look closely to be sure terms of your account have not changed and that charges listed are for items you purchased. Mistakes are made on invoices and pointing out errors quickly will help you resolve them.

Keeping Records Electronically

If you prefer to do financial management online you can download your monthly statements to a disc labeled for that credit account.

A downloadable disc is preferable to filing statements on your personal computer as computer failure could cause loss of financial records over the years.

Summary

You may never need to use your old statements. However, if you have a tax audit and are asked to provide proof of deductions from years past, failure to keep records can be costly.

Keep either a physical printout or an electronic file organized by lender with each monthly statement added to the file regularly. Check statements for accuracy and for changes monthly. Keep the statements for 7-10 years to be safe.