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Home > Consumer Focus Archive > Preparing Your Household Records
Consumer Focus: Preparing Your Household Records

Preparing Your Household Records

A woman looking at a file; the file is labeled 'insurance'Disasters like floods, fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes strike without warning and can affect anyone. Your number one priority in these situations is making sure your family is safe, not finding your most recent copies of insurance policies or bank statements. Read on to learn how to prepare an emergency financial records kit and to make sure you have access to other important documents in case the unexpected happens to you.

Posted: March 1, 2006


A stack of papers and files.What Documents Should You Have Ready?

Every family should have an emergency financial records kit they can grab and go in case they need to leave their home quickly. You might want to store the documents in an accordion file and keep it in your emergency supply kit so that everything you need is together. Items you should put in the kit include:

  • Identification for all family members. This can include documents such as driver’s licenses, insurance cards, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates.
  • Checkbook with blank checks and deposit slips. Even if you never write checks it is handy to have at least one check so you have a record of your checking account number and financial institution’s routing number.
  • ATM cards, debit cards, and credit cards. PIN numbers for all these cards will also be helpful, but remember it is always best to memorize you PIN numbers—don’t store them near the cards in case of theft.
  • Cash
  • Contact information for your financial service providers and important account numbers. It may also be helpful to make photocopies of the front and back sides of your credit cards and keep them in the kit.
  • Safe deposit box key

Remember that these documents contain personal information like social security numbers and bank account information that could be used against you if it fell into the wrong hands. Be sure your emergency financial records kit is stored in a secure location in your home so it is easy for you to carry away in a disaster not for a thief to carry away in a robbery.

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A woman standing by a file cabinet looking at a file folder.Storing Your Other Records


A well-organized system for keeping your family records can pay big dividends when you need to find an important paper NOW. When saving records, first determine what to keep. With each piece of paper, ask yourself two questions: What could happen if I don't have this particular piece of paper? Will it cost me more to replace this piece of paper rather than keep it? When in doubt, DON'T throw it out.

Digitize your documents

It's best to save your important documents and files in a way that can easily be carried away and accessed later. Some options for doing this include scanning photos and important documents, investing in an external hard drive for your computer and regularly backing up important documents—you can then carry away the external hard drive at a moments notice. Burning important files to blank CDs and storing them in a safe place or copying important files to an online storage area are also options for preserving your data electronically. Note that there is usually a monthly charge for online document storage.

Safe deposit box

It is appropriate to store some of your important originals in a safe deposit box. Safe deposit boxes are best for protecting certain papers that could be difficult to replace, but NOT anything you might need to access quickly. Consult your attorney before you put an original copy of your will in a safe deposit box—some states don’t permit access after a person dies. Documents stored in a safe deposit box should always be sealed in air tight waterproof containers (like Ziploc bags) to ensure they are not damaged.

How long to keep your documents

In addition to keeping documents in a safe deposit box, you need a system to store other records conveniently at home. These include bank records, educational records, insurance policies, and creditor information just to name a few. There are different life cycles for each type of document you have in your household record system—you might want to organize them by short-term and long-term depending on how long you should keep them. Make sure you regularly review your files and shred documents you no longer to keep on hand.

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A book, yellow notepad, important documentsHow the New Bankruptcy Legislation Affects Your Household Records

Under the new Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) there are 3 requirements before you can file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. You must first receive either a group or individual “briefing” from an approved nonprofit budget and credit-counseling agency within 180 days prior to filing, you will also be subject to a means test that will calculate your income, deduct allowable expenses, and determine your monthly income to be used in this test, and there will now be a limit on the number of allowable bankruptcy filings. If you file bankruptcy you must keep your documents including: petition, motions, schedules, orders, matrix, amendments and your discharge order for a very long time, maybe even forever! If you filed bankruptcy in the past be sure to include copies of these documents in your emergency financial records kit, too.



A daughter helping her father with paperwork.Helping Others Get Organized

You aren’t the only one who needs this information. Print out a copy of this article to share with loved ones. Encourage your parents and other family members to organize their financial records and prepare and emergency financial records kits. This will also help you understand their financial situation and help you help them if a time of need arises. Preparing ahead can save you and your loved ones an enormous amount of time and energy in the event of a disaster or death in the family.


Other Resources

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