Depending on the type of car insurance documents, you may want to pause before heading to the paper shredder or your digital recycle bin. In general, you should hold on to all insurance records until your policy has expired and any outstanding claims have been settled. For more information, Bankrate’s team of insurance experts has put together this record-keeping best practices guide, which explains what documents to hold onto, how long to store them and safe disposal methods.

Insurance documents that you need to keep

It is a good idea to keep your auto insurance statements and related documentation until your car insurance policy expires. These records may include:

  • Your insurance ID card. This document acts as proof of insurance. It must be provided at the request of a police officer or when you are involved in an accident in many states. Keep this card as long as the policy term is valid, either in your wallet, glove compartment or center console or as a digital file you can easily access on your smartphone.
  • The declarations page of your auto insurance policy. An insurance declarations page gives you a snapshot of what your policy coverage types and limits are, as well as details on what could be excluded from your policy. Retain this document in a safe and accessible place — such as a file cabinet or desk drawer — until the policy period is no longer active and any open claims during the period have been resolved.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. Receipts from repairs and pictures from an accident are essential pieces of documentation to hold onto. Having these can significantly contribute to ensuring your auto insurance provider processes your claim accurately. In general, you should only dispose of these documents after your claim is processed and you’ve received your settlement.
  • Your monthly billing statement. It may be a good idea to keep monthly statements until your payment has been processed or the policy period has ended. If your policy pertains to a business, speak with your tax professional first, as they may recommend keeping statements for a few years. Statements should be kept in a safe place, like a locked file cabinet or drawer.

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Insurance documents that you do not need to keep

Determining how long to keep old insurance policies and other 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, though it may not be necessary if your insurer provides digital access to these documents through your online account. If your insurer does not, hang onto all paperwork until you receive a new policy package in the mail when you renew. Once your policy has expired and you’ve paid for it in full, it is safe to discard these documents.
  • 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. The only insurance ID card that holds significance is the one that displays your current coverage period, typically active for six months or one year. Expired ID cards can head to the paper shredder — out with the old, in with the new!

Learn more: How to read an auto insurance policy

How long to keep insurance records

How long you should keep insurance statements depends on if you have any open claims and how you use your vehicle. Some of the most extensive insurance documents, like the full policy jacket (aka policy form), do not need to be retained for more than a year.

Once you have a 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 car repair and medical care receipts, until the claim has been closed and all payments have been received.

If your policy is for a business, you might need to keep insurance documents for tax purposes for up to seven years. Defer to your tax professional for advice. 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 due to the sensitive information that the paperwork may contain.

If, for some reason, you accidentally discard current policy documents, don’t 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 customer service 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, addresses, policy numbers and other personal data, and an enterprising thief might use this info 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 old insurance documents. A cross-cut shredder will cut the pages in two directions, making it harder for potential thieves to get information from discarded documents. If you don’t have a home shredder, some office stores offer shredding services, and many local banks or companies host free shredding days.

Frequently asked questions

    • There is no single “best” auto insurance company. If there were, everyone would probably purchase coverage from it. Instead, insurance companies use proprietary algorithms to create custom quotes for the types of drivers they are trying to attract as customers. For example, some providers offer more competitive rates to high-risk teenage drivers. So, to find the best car insurance, you should consider shopping around to identify the company that is aligned with your wants and needs.
    • When you purchase a new policy upon renewing or switching companies, you can discard old policy paperwork once you receive the new documents. However, you should keep old insurance policies if there is an open claim or the possibility of an open claim. And if you’re renewing, you may want to keep billing statements and the declarations page from your old policy. Finally, remember that you always need a valid auto insurance card when driving, as well.
    • You should keep old insurance claims paperwork until the claim is officially closed, the policy has expired and you have received all payments you are eligible for. Once the claim is complete, it is safe to shred the paperwork in a cross-cut shredder. Prior to shredding, you can scan the documents or take photos of them to store digitally or in the cloud if you wish.
    • Storing your insurance documents in a fire- and water-resistant lockbox and/or climate-controlled space is typically a great way to protect them against many home and weather hazards. Avoid storing loose documents in your basement in case your home experiences flooding. You may also consider storing documents on a flash drive or similar device. Alternatively, for a small fee, sites like Dropbox and iCloud will store digital documents online so they are accessible no matter where you are or what device you are using.