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Staying Organized After a House Fire

Staying Organized After a House Fire

Something that may be of concern to many homeowners following a house fire is record retention.

What records should you keep going forward and what records are OK to discard? Plus, how can you organize your records for safety and convenience?

First, a Word About if Your Records Were Lost in a House Fire

If this happened to you, the first thing you should do is make a list of important records you may need – we’ll list them later in this article – and then try to make a list of the issuing agencies so you can contact them and see about getting replacements.

For instance, if you need a new Social Security Card or a new driver’s license you should be able to get these from the Social Security Administration and your state’s driver’s license bureau, respectively. You may even be able to get them online instead of having to find time to drive to the agency.

Now if you have records that you don’t want to risk having damaged in a house fire, or another house fire,  or you if you have replacement documents that you do not want to have damaged, here are some tips. 

About the Importance of Keeping Good Records

Keeping good financial records can help you maintain a good credit standing, help you save money on taxes as well as provide a track record of your financial progress. Good record retention can also save you hours of anxious searching, can help preserve peace and harmony and can make it much easier to cope with life’s emergency situations – like a house fire.

But what exactly is good record retention?

We all know that there are some records we need to keep. But which ones?

If we were to start keeping everything that “might” be important, it’s not hard to imagine ourselves soon living in a house or apartment littered with numerous tall stacks of paper stretching from the floor to the ceiling.

So what should you do?

This article contains essential guidelines you can follow to quickly and easily decide what records to keep and what records to discard as well as how and where to store your important records.

Today more than ever families and individuals are suffering from document overload. Knowing which records to discard can be particularly beneficial if you have to move due to a recent house fire.

Record Retention: What to Keep

We tend not to think much about keeping important papers – that is, until an emergency (like a house fire) occurs or the Internal Revenue Service comes calling!

Keeping good records is important because:


  • Access to insurance and asset records can help you settle a house fire claim quicker
  • Records also help in estate settlement and insurance or benefit claims
  • Death, fire or theft may call for records to establish ownership
  • Records help substantiate income tax deductions.
  • If someone makes a mistake or official records are destroyed, your records may be needed.
  • Your past records can help you plan future spending and keep tabs on your current and past financial situation.
  • Records could shorten the time it takes to collect insurance, military benefits, veteran’s benefits or an income tax refund.
  • And much more!


Here is a list of records you should keep:


  • Birth/Marriage/Death Certificates
  • Bank Statements
  • Canceled checks
  • Contracts
  • Credit Card Account Numbers
  • Divorce Papers
  • Home Purch. & Imp.
  • Household Inventory
  • Insurance
  • Investment Records
  • Investment Certificates
  • Loan Agreements
  • Military Service
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Receipts – Large Purchases
  • Service Contracts & Warranties
  • Social Security Card
  • Tax Returns
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Will


These documents should be kept in a safe deposit box or a fire-proof safe. If you didn’t do this before, and lost important records in a fire, try to get replacements and keep those replacements off-site in a safe deposit box or in a fire-proof safe if you keep them at home.

Record Retention: What to Discard

To help you avoid “document overload,” here is a list of items that you can begin tossing out today!


  • Bank records such as ATM receipts, canceled checks and credit card receipts can usually be tossed after you’ve made sure the information is correct on your monthly statement. However, if your receipts will be used for tax purposes (such as for charitable contributions and business expenses), you’ll want to keep them for at least three years (six if you own a business).
  • Most people can also throw away utility receipts once the bills are paid. But hang onto them if you’re deducting phone or electricity charges as home-office expenses, or if you want to keep a year’s worth of utility expenses to show a prospective home buyer how much your utilities typically cost.


Additional items that you can begin getting rid of immediately are:


  • Appliance & Software Manuals – for items you no longer own
  • Computer Software – toss the box, register the product and file the manual
  • Travel Brochures & Maps – that are outdated or that you will never need again
  • Warranties & Service Contracts – that are expired or are for products you no longer own
  • Junk Mail
  • Old letters and cards
  • Any expired piece of paper
  • Old receipts (that are not for large purchases)
  • Business cards
  • Old lists
  • Phone lists
  • Recipes
  • Old newspaper or magazine clippings
  • School papers
  • Old calendars and appointment books
  • Membership lists
  • Old catalogs and magazines
  • Checkbooks for closed accounts
  • Canceled checks

Methods of Disposal

At the end of the required retention period, financial records may be disposed of unless they support current audit or litigation. When destroying documents it is now a good idea to use a shredder to prevent identity theft – particularly when you are disposing of any receipts that have your credit card numbers or other personal information on them.

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