Save Those Papers!

Authored By: Legal Services Alabama

About this Resource

In order to protect your rights, you may need to use papers others have given you. This fact sheet tells you what papers you should save.

What Papers Should I Save? For How Long? Why?

Tax Returns(Federal and State) & W-2 Forms

  • If you file taxes, keep copies for six (6) years
  • You may need them if the IRS audits you.
  • One year's tax return may help you file next year's taxes.
  • They may help you show past income if you file bankruptcy or apply for some benefits.


  • Always keep a receipt until any warranty period is over.
  • You may need the receipt in order to get a warranty honored.
  • You sometimes will need to show some receipts to get benefits such as food stamps and SSI.
  • Your rent receipt can help you stop your landlord from saying you did not pay rent and evicting you.
  • Your mortgage receipts can help you fight a foreclosure.


  • Any time you sign an agreement, ask for and then keep a copy.
  • You usually get a contract when you buy or rent a house.
  • You usually get a contract when you buy, rent or lease a car.
  • You usually get a contract when you buy anything else over time.
  • You may get a contract when you get a job.
  • Keep your copy for as long as you may have rights or duties under the contract.
  • If a problem comes up, the words of the contract will decide your rights.

Pay Stubs

  • Keep copies for six (6) years.
  • They can help if you have a wage dispute.
  • They can help if you apply for Social Security, SSI, Medicaid, unemployment, food stamps or child care.
  • They can help you prove residency to INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)

List of your employers

  • Save their names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of employment.
  • You may need to call them about unpaid wages or taxes.
  • You may need them if you apply for Social Security, SSI, Medicaid, unemployment or food stamps.


  • Always keep a copy of any warranty for anything you buy until the warranty period is over.
  • The warranty should tell you your rights.
  • It also tells you who to contact for a refund, repair or replacement.

Money Order Receipts

  • If you mail a money order, keep your money order receipt until you know that the person cashes the money order.
  • If your money order is lost or stolen, you usually need the receipt to get your money back.
  • Money order receipts can also help you prove what you paid for something.

Titles to Cars

  • Keep your car title at least as long as you own your car.
  • Do not store the title in your car, since it could easily be stolen.
  • Keep a copy in your car or in your wallet. The police may ask to see it.
  • Your car title proves you own the car.

Papers from Social Security

  • Keep papers you get from Social Security for at least four (4) years.
  • If Social Security ever says it paid you too much, your papers may keep you from losing benefits.
  • If Social Security denies you benefits, the notices it gives you explain your rights.

Papers from the Food Stamp Office

  • Keep papers you get from the Food Stamp Office for at least two (2) years.
  • If the Food Stamp Office ever says it paid you too much, your papers may keep you from losing benefits.
  • If the Food Stamp Office denies you stamps, the notices it gives you explain your rights.

Birth, Marriage, Divorce, Death Certificates

  • Keep birth, marriage, divorce or death certificates forever.
  • You may need them when you apply for Social Security or other benefits.
  • A copy of your divorce decree proves that you are legally divorced and free to remarry.
  • Without marriage, birth, and divorce certificates, you may not be able to adjust your status to a Legal Permanent Resident or U.S. citizen.

Medical Records

  • Keep papers about any diagnosis or treatment forever.
  • Keep papers about any payment for at least six years.
  • Keeping payment records can help you defend claims for payment.
  • Medical records can help make sure you get the right medical care.
  • Medical records can also help you get SSI or Social Security disability benefits.

School Records

  • You should keep your child's school records in a file and keep them until your child graduates from high school.
  • These records can help when applying for college.
  • They can help you show you were entitled to Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • They can help prove residency for many kinds of benefits.

Military and Selective Service Records

  • Keep papers that show you registered until you turn 35.
  • Keep papers to show you served in the Armed Forces at least until you retire or start to get VA benefits.
  • The papers may help you get college loans or health care services.
  • If you are a Legal Permanent Resident, you may need a copy of your registration letter from the Selective Service in order to become a U.S. citizen.

Immigration Documents

  • Keep any paper from the Immigration and Naturalization Service forever.
  • Also keep copies of anything you mail to INS.
  • This can help you prove that you are legally here.

Other Papers

  • This list is not complete - there may be other papers you need to save.
  • When in doubt, put copies of documents in marked envelopes or file folders and put them where you can find them. offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online HERE.

Last Review and Update: Nov 15, 2019
Was this information helpful?
Back to top