Keeping records: don't throw out those warranties, canceled checks

It's all too easy to toss warranties, bills, fand tax returns into fa drawer or box. It's all too often difficult to locate them when needed. How long should the bill of sale for an automobile be kept? Is it important to save telephone charges? Where is the warranty to the vacuum cleaner when it breaks down? The crucial art of record keeping is something nearly every one needs to know.

Several sources offer help. Protect Yourself, a Canadian consumer magazine published by L'Office de la Protection du Consummateur in Quebec, recently outlined how long to keep records and why. Sylvia Porter also gives advice in "Sylvia Porter's New Money Book for the 80's."

Keep sales receipts or other proofs of purchase for home appliances for as long as the merchandise is owned. Save warranties while they are valid. Repair estimates and bills should be saved for six months.

Hold clothing and footwear receipts for at least one year. Along with the receipts keep information tags, extra buttons, and darning yarn.

Keep the sales contract for automobiles or motorcycles for as long as the vehicle is owned. If repairs are made, keep the receipts and estimates for six months. Hold a warranty for a specific repair for as long as it's valid.

Advice on saving canceled checks varies. One tax preparer says to keep important canceled checks, such as those relating to tax deductions, for six years. Sylvia Porter urges consumers to use canceled checks as proof of payment , rather than storing bulky receipts.

The Canadian consumer magazine advises keeping checking account records or statements for at least five years.

Credit card statements should be kept for several months, or through the year if interest was paid which can be deducted on income tax returns.

Don't bother to save checks on house maintenance unless you plan to sell the house soon. But do hold canceled checks for permanent home improvements, such as installation of air conditioning.

Save wage slips until the end of the year, when they can be checked against W-2 forms.

Keep a copy of a lease as long as it is valid. Get receipts for rent payments and keep them during the current and following year.

Save electric and fuel bills for two years, advises the Canadian consumer magazine. Save telephone bills for six months to a year.

Keep records of the bill of purchase of property as long as it is owned. A bill of sale for land or a house is important at least four years after sale. A mortgage discharge should be held while the property is owned and four years beyond.

Sylvia Porter suggests hanging on to returns for six years in the US. Save income tax returns for four years in Canada, according to "Protect Yourself."

Insurance policies should be saved for the duration of policies. Diplomas and certificates of education should be kept throughout a person's life.

Action for Independent Maturity (AIM) offers a pamphlet to help people keep track of vital papers sch as insurance policies, bonds, deeds, and passports. Although it doesn't give advice on how long to keep bills, the pamphlet provides a log sheet on which to record details such as names, addresses, numbers, and locations of documents. Military, education, and employment records should be listed. The address and telephone number of professional advisers such as lawyers or insurance agents should be jotted down.

A safe deposit box is a fairly secure place for such items as adoption papers , bonds, deeds, pension certificates, and valued letters, says AIM. Items which can be replaced, such as passports, and those needed for frequent reference, such as canceled checks, should be kept in a file case, preferably one that locks.

The AIM pamphlet can be obtained by sending $3.95 to AIM Logbook PO Box 19269 , Station A, Washington, D.C. 20036.

For a free government pamphlet entitled "Keeping Records, What to Discard," write the Consumer Information Center , Department 610J, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.

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