Document Retention 101: Here’s How to Know What to Purge and When

Developing a practical document retention and destruction schedule is an important part of an organization’s overall document management strategy. More often than not, over the course of any business and during the progression of lifecycle document management, you will find yourself holding onto documents that have outlived their usefulness.
It can be a nagging professional responsibility and a potential risk management/compliance issue – so how can you determine what should stay and what should go? The “paperless office” strategy is difficult to achieve, because while “going paperless” certainly has its logical benefits, the mentality of letting go can often be intimidating and overwhelming. Luckily, there are plenty of resources as your fingertips to help you figure it out.

1. Check your industry and legal requirements
Each state or industry has certain record retention requirements that professionals must adhere to in order to be in compliance with the laws and regulations that govern that entity. For example, the North Carolina Bar Trust Account Guidelines state, “A lawyer shall maintain complete records of all funds, securities, or other property of a client … for a period of six (6) years following completion of the transactions generating the records.” Breaking industry retention guidelines could spell trouble should your business become involved with a legal issue or your clients request an old file that you prematurely destroyed. On the other, hand if you’re taking up valuable office and storage space with records that are past the retention period, purging them will relieve a great burden on your overhead costs and efficiency. We recommend checking with your industry association for specific best practices. 


2. Follow a common sense approach
Perhaps your industry does not require document retention for a certain period of time. If establishing a document retention schedule is left up to personal preference, it can easily become a frustrating guessing game trying to decide what to keep. What if an old client resurfaces years later and needs a file? What if you get audited and those old receipts and financial statements are missing? For example, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep tax records for six years and every-day paperwork for 3 years. If you’re hesitant to purge important records, we recommend scanning them and storing them electronically via the cloud. Keeping records in electronic format can greatly reduce overhead costs while ensuring that all records are still organized and accessible – which leads us to our third point.


3. Create a permanent electronic repository
For some businesses that are not interested in file purging and would instead prefer to retain all documents indefinitely, scanning your records and using an electronic content management system enables you to enjoy the convenience of having access to your records 24/7 without the additional overhead costs or disorganization associated with hard copy files. Permanently storing important legal, business, or financial paperwork can become costly for businesses. Implementing an electronic document management system allows you to securely maintain confidential documents without cumbersome documents. Those file cabinets lined up in your office can’t protect your documents forever. Document scanning is a viable long-term solution that will drastically improve the way you manage paperwork.


Above all, Record Storage Systems encourages responsible and secure document retention and purging. We recommend seeking advice from your state or regional industry association regarding best practices for records retention. No matter what stage you’re at in the document management lifecycle, we offer services to help you along the way. Whether you need document storage, scanning, shredding or electronic document management, we’ll help you establish a process that keeps your records safe and accessible.