Now is a good time of year to review your records retention policy, or establish one if you haven’t. Many times it’s easiest just to box up all your records when you run out of file cabinets and move them to storage. With a few simple changes, your records storage can be streamlined and you will be able to find records you need in your archives with no trouble.
The first step is to make a list of the types of records you have that should be kept either permanently or over some period of time. Some examples are: monthly/annual accounting backup, sales tax returns and backup, federal tax returns, corporate records, human resources, accounts receivable and payable, banking records, and marketing.
There are other types of records that may or may not need to be retained. Examples of these include special projects files, and files in employee’s desks. A common problem is encountered when an employee leaves; what to do with the contents of their desk? It is tempting to just box it all up and send it to archives. However, unless someone goes through the desk and identifies the files, how will you ever find anything in a box labeled ‘John’s desk’ in archives? A better solution is to box the files, keep them for a year on-site, and if they’re never needed, they can be thrown away or shredded.
After your list is established, categorize records based on how long they need to be kept. Most records should be kept at least 5-7 years. If unsure, assign a 7 year retention. Your federal tax returns, incorporation papers, and in some cases legal papers should be kept permanently.
Label your archive boxes with as much detail as possible and always include a destroy date on the box. If the records are to be kept permanently, label the box ‘PERMANENT’ or ‘NEVER DESTROY’. It would be helpful to track the boxes in a spreadsheet. You can review the list for items that have reached their destroy date at the same time you add your current archive materials to storage.
As far as destruction, the best policy is to hire a document shredding service. That will ensure that any confidential information will not fall into the wrong hands.
Finally, document your records retention procedures and make sure your employees follow them. Assign a designated individual to review and track all items sent to archives. This will keep extraneous items from being sent to archives in error. Exceptions to the standard archiving procedure can always be made, but the decision should be made by the designated person.
If you have any questions about records retention, please feel free to contact us.