How to Tell Which Documents to Shred

Somewhere in between “hoarding” and “compulsive decluttering” is the happy medium between keeping or shredding business documents. The proper legal term for the time period you should keep each type of document is called the “document retention period.” Every document has one, whether it is short or eternal.

Legally-compliant records management is important because:

  • It’s the law
  • It supports business decisions
  • If needed, it acts as proof that you are compliant with the law


It’s not okay to stay “on the safe side” and keep business records indefinitely. Documents should only be kept as long as they are needed. By hanging on to them too long, you risk:

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII) being available to unauthorized people
  • Making it more challenging to find active files among the excess of unnecessary files
  • Filling valuable—and expensive—office space with inactive files

A retention period allows for information to be available for the longest time necessary without compromising its privacy and ensures it is shredded when it is no longer of value or becomes a liability.

Compulsive Decluttering

We all know people who love to get rid of stuff. Maybe you’re one of them. A ruthless attitude towards clutter can be beneficial, but when it comes to business records, it can also be detrimental. By destroying documents too early, you risk:

  • Losing information that is necessary for future management decisions
  • Setting yourself up for possible fines if the information is necessary for legal reasons
  • Causing harm to clients if records like medical or legal documents are prematurely eliminated

Adhering to the proper retention period ensures a document can be safely destroyed because its legal life has expired and gives your company assurance that you are no longer liable.

Document Retention Periods

So here’s the big question you’re probably asking: “What records should I shred, and when should I shred them?”

Some documents should never be shredded for specific reasons. These include:

  • Essential Records that are kept over a lifetime, like medical records, pension plans, education records, and retirement accounts.
  • Wills should not be destroyed to ensure that the deceased’s desires are honored, and their belongings are distributed as requested.
  • Legal Documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce papers, passports, military records, social security cards, and now COVID vaccination cards are essential for identity purposes.
  • Property Titles and Certificates prove ownership of specific land, buildings, and their dimensions.

Most records, apart from those that should be retained forever, have a specific retention period. It can be a challenge to keep track of record retention regulations since every state plus the federal government has their own requirements. Each state in the US has a State Archivist and includes the retention guidelines for businesses and individuals. Consult state and federal government sites for your specific business’ document retention periods.

COVID-19 Records Retention

An important consideration with regards to document retention is records concerning COVID-19. To safeguard your response on how you adapted to COVID and served your clients, it is important that you preserve records that pertain to your COVID-19 responses.

Operating your business, leading your staff, and serving your customers are priorities, and following record retention laws must also be a priority. Work with a NAID AAA Certified company to relieve you of the stress of managing those retention periods, ensure that your documents are shredded at the right time, and destroyed in the most secure manner.

Apex Shredding serves Northern Colorado businesses with NAID AAA Certified shredding, hard drive destruction, and e-recycling and is compliant with all state and federal destruction laws. Give us a call at 970-532-5007 or complete the form on this page for assistance with your document destruction needs.

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