Every business and service provider that keeps paper records should be doing a good inventory of their information on a regular basis. It's easier said than done, right? Naturally, one needs to know What should they be cleaning out, When do they need to keep it until, Where are they going to store and/or shred it, Why do they need to store and/or shred it? Get the answers to your 5 W's to make your fall cleaning a breeze!
Who? Who should be taking a look at the records in that stack of boxes building up in their office? Again, any business or service provider that puts information on paper. But for starters, anyone who has yet to do a good clean out this year (2011) should do so. Also, those who are ending, or starting, a fiscal year should start fresh by getting old files into storage and shredding unnecessary files or file duplicates in order to cut down on the amount of paper you have going into storage.
By making sure you go through your files at least once a year, you are able to quickly and efficiently sort through paperwork that is fresh in your mind and you can quickly decide if it is vital to your business or not. If you end up waiting longer than a year, the chances are that when you revisit the files, it will take you longer for you to determine whether or not the records are vital and who wants to waste time? Time equals money so hunker down, and get it done. You will be glad you did it in the end.
*Quick tip- by having a secure destruction container in your office, you can routinely get rid of sensitive information as you come across it in your daily work. A bin for ongoing destruction will decrease the overall amount of information that piles up waiting to be sorted through in a good seasonal cleaning! (See the end of this article for more information on secure bin rotations)
What should you be cleaning out? This question take a little bit more consideration because different industries have different types of files, documents, and records that they need to keep for a certain period of time and thus, this question also requires the When question to be answered too.
- Tax Records- 7 years after the tax year that the records are from.
- Patient/Client Records- Dependent upon what the records are- Medical Records are kept by a care provider for 7 years after last treatment date or 3 years after the patients death. If a patient requests a copy of their medical records, they are entitled to it and may keep it for however long they like. Legal Records-sometimes are kept indefinitely or for a period of at least 7 years. If a client requests a copy of their legal records, they are entitled to it and may keep if for however long they like.
- Financial Documents (Checks, invoices, statements, expenses, donations, cash records, loan records, etc.)- 6 years or until after an audit it performed. After the time period, financial records are to be shredded.
Corporate Records (meeting minutes, reports, articles of association / incorporation)- One copy of corporate records are archived for the life of the company.
Purchase orders- 3 years from date of purchase.
Inventories- Until the next inventory, obsolete inventories should be shredded.
Personnel/HR files- 7 years after the end of employment.
Invoices/Accounts Payable- 6 years from date on invoice.
Accounts Receivable- 6 years from date received.
Contracts- Under seal- 12 years after expiration; not under seal- 6 years after expiration.
Insurance Plans- Policies are kept 3 years after renewal, Settlements- 7 years after claims, schedules- 10 years.
After you have figured out what you need to keep, shred, and store, you need to determine Where you are going to store the information. Naturally, you will want to also shred your necessary documents with the same RM that you chose to store your documents to save time and money. Necessary documents should be kept in filing cabinets in the office. To reduce the risk of having too many unnecessary files in the office, only keep a few filing cabinets. That way, you will be forced to go through your older files in order to put them into long term storage with your RM partner. Your RM partner should also have access rooms available for you to access your boxes of files when necessary to either retrieve files or pick out obsolete files for shredding.
Last but most certainly not least, Why is all of this necessary? Properly storing and shredding of sensitive client, business, and personal information is not only a good practice, it is the law.
Massachusetts data protection laws 93H and 93I require entities to safeguard any and all Social Security numbers, Driver's License Numbers, financial account numbers, and credit or debit card numbers. Entities are required to have a written policy stating how the named documents are safeguarded; the written policy could name your RM as how you go about safeguarding these documents.
Overall, the job might not be pretty, it might not be fun, but a good fall cleaning will not only put your business in a better position, it's good for the mind, body, and wallet! Yes, wallet. By ensuring that you stay on top of your record managing, you will save countless hours of time for those who are fit to do the job (ie. usually executives or higher ups that get paid top dollar). Also, by cutting down the amount of files you put into storage by having them shredded, you are paying a one-time shredding cost rather than additional monthly cost for the space taken up by unnecessary files. Get all of your RM needs squared away before the cold weather and holidays come. You will be glad you did!
Learn what an town hall discovered that they were glad they kept around when they were doing a little records managing of their own.... http://columbiamissourian.com/stories/2009/04/13/court-documents-reveal-sturgeons-past/
If you are looking for more money-saving practices that your business can implement, looking into bin rotations for ongoing destruction might be something to do. By having a secure destruction bin in your office which has a slit-top container, you can routinely get rid of your sensitive documents by placing them in the locked bin. When your container is full, just have the bin rotated... its that simple! No strict rotation schedule, no bin fees, two convenient sizes, and just a one time flat rotation fee only when your bin is full, how can you go wrong?
For more information of Legal records pertaining to Massachusetts residents, please visit:
For more information on the 93H and 93I laws, please visit:
For More information about Safeguard Records Management and how they can provide you with records management solutions, please visit: