Monday, 3 August 2020

The world may be more digital now than when your parents started out or even when you began your studies a few years ago. However, keeping up with “paperwork" remains an essential life skill that can help you access opportunities to achieve your goals, specifically as it pertains to pursuing higher education and getting a job. It is also a key part of ensuring smooth sailing as you move on in life, specifically as it relates to maintaining your health, obtaining housing, using financial tools, traveling and more.

Show them who you are

Your campus ID card got you into the library and the cafeteria, but it won't get you very far after graduation. Employers and other organizations typically ask for at least two pieces of government-issued identification—at least one with a photo. Eligible forms of ID typically include:

  • Birth certificate: This official document serves as proof of age, identity and citizenship status and does not expire. Birth certificates may also be used as evidence of a legal connection to your parents, helpful in many instances, including claiming inheritance or death benefits. If you need an official copy of your birth certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where you were born.
  • Photo ID: A state-issued driver's license or non-driver's identification card should be carried with you every day to prove your identity, age, and in some cases your residence. Reach out to the Department of Motor Vehicles where you currently reside for information on an application.
  • Social Security card: Remembering the number should be sufficient for routine needs, such as filling out employment forms. It is still a good idea to keep a physical copy of the card. You can order a new or replacement card through the Social Security Administration website.
  • Passport: Helpful for traveling outside the country, passports can also prove your age, identity and citizenship. Unlike birth certificates, they do expire. Check out the U.S. Department of State's website for instructions on obtaining a new or renewed passport.
  • Voter registration card: This card typically includes your name and home address (along with the address of the polling station where you'll vote). To apply, contact your state's board of elections.

Tracking your financial life

Consider keeping bank and financial statements, along with tax-related receipts accessible for at least three years. Store monthly statements for checking and savings accounts, credit cards and loans securely, and check them regularly for errors or fraud. Report any issues right away to the financial institution.

Dorm paperwork, leases, rent receipts, final utility bills as well as photos from your move-in and move-out inspection can be useful a few years after you vacate the premises. If you receive any notices claiming you still owe money, you can reference your files to verify the details. Saved documents can also be helpful in documenting your rent history for new apartment applications.

Other financial documents to store:

  • Tax returns (these should be stored for three to seven years; check the IRS website and consult with your tax advisor for details)
  • Car title and registration and any relevant loan documents
  • 401(k) and other investment account statements
  • Insurance policies and records of premium payments 

Building your professional history

As you build your work history, you may begin to accumulate employment documents that could become reference material for important life and financial decisions. While your employer may maintain these files for their records, make and store your own copies of the following:

  • Offer letters and salary statements
  • Benefits information
  • Company policies and HR compliance handbooks
  • Payroll related forms, i.e., I-9, W4 forms and direct deposit authorizations
  • Signed contracts, i.e., a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)—a legal agreement asking you to maintain the confidentiality of your work with the company even after you no longer work there
  • Awards, commendations, professional certifications, licenses or continuing education coursework
  • Receipts for work-related travel or purchases (you may get reimbursed by your employer, or you may be eligible to claim these expenses as a tax deduction; check with your tax preparer for details)

Health information

It's a good idea to keep a copy of your medical records—or at least the basic details—about your allergies, prior illnesses and surgeries, vaccines, etc. This data can help you more accurately fill out forms for travel, employment, insurance, etc. when necessary.

Maintain files of other health-related documentation, too:

  • Copies of your health insurance card and policy information
  • Health forms you are asked to sign, such as a HIPAA form or medical proxy
  • Physician's letters regarding a disability, workplace injury or military injury
  • Any proof of disability status or qualification for any government benefits or assistance programs

Safe and secure

Consider storing physical documents, especially official government-issued papers, in a personal (ideally fireproof) safe or bank safe deposit box. Make digital copies of all originals, and don't forget to back these up regularly.

Remember, if you feel overwhelmed, your files are a work in progress. Create a reminder system, such as a note on a digital calendar, for any documents that will expire or need to be updated, downloaded, etc. Set aside a couple of hours each month to review and track your documents.


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