How long should you keep your car insurance records? It depends on the type of documents. Learn what you should keep and for how long, plus what is safe to toss or shred. Having the right documents in a safe place can make it easier when you need to confirm policy details, get into an accident or have to file a claim. Bankrate’s team of insurance experts breaks down everything you need to know below.

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Documents that you need to keep

Knowing how long to keep auto insurance statements and how long to keep insurance policy documents requires you to determine if and why you might need them in the future. There are a number of documents that you will receive as part of your auto insurance coverage that should be saved:

  • Your auto insurance card. This small card must be provided at the request of a police officer or if involved in an accident in many states. Keep them as long as the policy term is valid, either in your wallet, glove compartment, center console or as a digital file you can easily access on your smartphone.
  • The declarations page of your auto insurance policy. An auto declaration page gives you a snapshot of what your policy coverage types and limits are, as well as details on what could be excluded in your policy. Retain this policy copy in a safe and accessible place — such as a file cabinet or desk drawer — until the policy period is no longer active and any open claims during the period have been resolved.
  • Documents pertaining to a claim. If you have an open claim with your auto insurer, keep all receipts, repair bills and any other paperwork pertaining to the claim. These documents can be disposed of once you have received a check and the claim is officially closed.
  • Your monthly billing statement. It may be a good idea to keep monthly statements until the payment has been processed or the policy period has ended, unless your policy pertains to a business, where your tax professional could recommend you keep statements for a few years. Statements should be kept in a safe place, like a file cabinet or drawer.

Documents that you do not need to keep

Determining how long to keep insurance records also involves knowing what you can throw out, and when. Here are a few items that you do not have to keep indefinitely:

  • Your main policy document. This is the multi-page document that includes all the details about your policy limits, discounts, coverage, policy endorsements and more. Many people opt to hold onto these pages until they renew their policy, which is fine. But it is not really necessary since many insurers offer digital access to these documents through your account on the company’s website. If your insurer does not have this functionality, hang on to them until you receive a new policy package in the mail when you renew. Once your policy has expired and you no longer are paying for it, you can discard these documents as well.
  • Canceled checks from paid premiums. Many banks no longer return your canceled checks. If yours does, you can shred the checks once you have reconciled them with your account.
  • Prior ID cards. Most auto insurance policies last for six months to a year. When your policy renews, you will get a new set of ID cards with the current policy period dates and a future expiration date. Once your prior ID cards have expired, they are no longer needed and can be shredded.

How long to keep insurance records

Bankrate looked at how long to keep insurance statements. Some of the most extensive ones, like your actual policy documents, do not need to be retained for more than a year. Once you have the new policy in hand, the old one can usually be tossed, unless there is an open claim that still needs to be resolved. In this case, it is a good idea to keep all documents, including receipts, until the claim has been closed and all payments have been received.

If your policy is for a business, you may need to keep the records up to seven years, as determined by your tax professional. Keeping insurance documents in a climate-controlled location can prevent mold or fading, and a waterproof and fireproof safe can protect them even further. Once it is time to discard the documents, a cross-cut shredder is one of the best ways to avoid identity theft from the sensitive information that the paperwork can contain.

If, for some reason, you accidentally discard current policy documents, do not worry. Your insurer will have copies of all paperwork on file, and you may be able to access them online as well. A quick call to your agent or company representative should be enough to be issued a new copy to replace the discarded one.

How to properly dispose of old insurance policies

Identity theft is growing across the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute. Your policy documents may contain names and addresses, policy numbers and other personal data, and an enterprising thief may use them for personal gain if your documents are found in the garbage or at a dump site. In general, you should always shred anything that has your name or identifying details on it.

A small home shredder should be adequate for discarding your old insurance documents. A cross-cut shredder will cut the pages in two directions, making it harder for potential thieves to get any information from the discarded documents. Some office stores offer shredding services, and many local banks or companies offer free shredding days regularly for residents in many areas.

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