Question: I have hundreds of pages of statements from closed retirement accounts. Some date back to the 1980s. Must I keep these statements? Can I scan the pages and shred the paper?
Ric: If the closed accounts contained only pretax contributions and you have verified that all the money from those accounts is, uh, accounted for in the new accounts, you can destroy the old account documents. That’s because you don’t need to retain any cost-basis data or evidence of paycheck withholding transmittals.
Ordinarily, we recommend that financial documents be held for seven years (sometimes forever), but closed retirement accounts are simpler and do not need to be retained for long. The full list of what documents to keep, where to keep them and for how long can be found here.
You can scan documents, but be warned: If your computer crashes, you could lose the data. Therefore, it is essential that you create backups and that you share your password with a trusted family member, friend or legal advisor. Also be aware that, if your computer gets hacked, criminals will be able to gain access to all the financial information you store on your computer.
In one recent case, an individual scanned the deed to his vacation home onto his computer. Hackers got a copy and used it to retitle the ownership at the county courthouse. They then sold the property — all without the homeowner’s knowledge. He discovered the fraud only when he arrived at the house and found new “owners” living in it. He spent years and huge sums in legal fees trying to recover the asset.
In another case, hackers used financial information found on a computer to refinance the victim’s house, stealing millions of dollars before he discovered the theft. Since the hackers immediately transferred the funds to foreign bank accounts after closing, the victim had no way to track the funds (let alone recover them). The crooks were more likely to live in Russia than Brooklyn, giving U.S. law enforcement little to go on.
You might want to think twice about scanning legal and financial documents onto your hard drive. If you choose to do so, make sure you have excellent cybersecurity in place and update it often.