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The Shred-it® Guide to Document Retention

Shred-it wants to help you to know which documents to shred and which to keep.

These days, most businesses are required by law to retain confidential client information, along with employee or company data, for a minimal amount of time. But many types of documents eventually outlive their purpose, and holding onto them too long puts you at risk of a security breach and non-compliance with today’s privacy legislation.

How long you store business records should be determined by a retention schedule that balances each record’s usefulness with the legal requirements. To some degree, this will depend on your type of business, and the lifecycle of specific documents. You’ll want to determine a retention schedule for each type of document, and then create a secure destruction schedule for those documents to reduce risks associated with data breaches.

From a risk-management perspective, once you’ve agreed on a time period to retain each type of document, the only acceptable way to discard your documents is to make sure they’re irreversibly destroyed. Shredding is a legal requirement for many types of documents, and on site shredding is the safest policy. You’ll want a Certificate of Destruction that specifies the exact date and method used to destroy your documents.

To help you create the right retention schedule for your business, here’s a list of documents that contain confidential information, along with the recommended retention period for each type in accordance with certain legal requirements. These recommendations on document retention are general guidelines only. They are not intended to represent legal advice. Contact your legal expert(s) or federal, state or provincial government to ensure you are following current legal requirements for your area.**

Alphabetized by document category


Contracts -- 6* Years

Correspondence, general -- 6* Years

Deeds PermanentLicense, traffic and purchase -- 6 Years (correspondence)

Mortgages and note agreements -- 6* Years

Patents -- Permanent

Production (correspondence) -- 8 Years


Auditors’ reports -- Permanent

Bank debt deduction -- 7 Years

Bank deposit slips, reconciliations, statements -- 4 Years

Bills of lading -- 4 Years

Budgets -- 2 Years

Checks – cancelled -- 4 Years

Contracts – purchase and sales -- 4* Years

Credit memos -- 4 Years

Depreciation records -- 4* Years

Employee expense reports -- 4 Years

Employee payroll records (W2, W-4, annual earnings records, etc.) -- 6* Years

Financial statements – annual -- Permanent

Financial statements – interim -- 4 Years

Freight bills -- 4 Years

Internal reports (work orders, sales reports, production reports) -- 4 Years

Inventory lists -- 4 Years

Invoices – sales and cash register receipts, merchandise purchases -- 4 Years

Invoices – purchases (permanent assets) -- 4* Years

General ledger -- Permanent

General, cash receipts, cash disbursement, and purchase journals ​-- Permanent

Payroll journal -- 4 Years

Subsidiary ledgers (accounts receivable, accounts payable, etc.) -- 6 Years

Time cards -- 4 Years

Worthless securities -- 7 Years


Accident reports -- 6 Years

Claims – after settlement -- 10 Years

Fire inspection reports -- 6 Years

Group disability reports -- 8 Years

Policies – all types – expired 4

Insurance policies -- 6* Years

Safety reports -- 8 Years

Settled insurance claims -- 4* Years


Attendance records -- 7 Years

COBRA records -- 4 Years

Contracts – expired -- 6 Years

Dental benefits -- 5 Years

Daily time reports -- 6 Years

Disability and sick benefit records -- 6 Years

Employment applications – not hired -- 3 Years

Employee benefit plans -- 2* Years

Employee medical history -- 7 Years

Medical benefits -- 7 Years

OSHA logs -- 6 Years

Performance record – after termination -- 7 Years

Personnel files – terminated -- 7* Years

Withholding tax statements -- 6 Years


Purchase orders -- 7 Years

Requisitions -- 3 Years

Sales contracts -- 3 Years

Sales invoices -- 3 Years


Payroll tax returns -- 4 Years

Pension/profit-sharing informational returns -- Permanent

Sales and use tax returns -- Permanent

Tax returns and cancelled checks (federal, state and local) -- Permanent


Export declarations -- 4 Years

Freight bills -- 4 Years

Manifests -- 4 Years

Shipping and receiving reports -- 4 Years

Waybills and bills of lading -- 4 Years

*Retention periods begin after the termination, expiration, disposal, etc., of the item.

** Information in this guide has been sourced from the links below:




4.,,id=98575,00.htmlThe Shred-it® Guide to Document Retention

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