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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Filing System For Home Offices

Developing a filing system for your home files is important. Organizing has to include filing whether you are filing recipes, filing different printer paper (8 1/2 x 11 photo, 4 x 6 photo, 8 1/2 x 11, legal, brochure), filing your children's artwork, filing photographs, filing financial papers, etc. So developing a file system for your home is essential. Here are some filing tips from me to help you get started.

There are two types of files:

1. Active files that hold materials which are regularly referred throughout the year; and
2. Permanent files which are rarely referred to but contain records we are required to retain, such as tax and legal records. Permanent files contain things like birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, life ins policies, passports, social security cards, vaccination records, deeds, car titles, etc. You may keep them in a safety deposit box or a safe or a lockable file cabinet.


* Have plenty of filing supplies on hand - file folders, labels, labeler with a backup cartridge, etc. You don't want to start a project and run out of supplies because there is always the chance that you forget to get those supplies and you've lost interest in the project and it never gets finished. So plan ahead and get those supplies to have on hand.

* Try to reduce your filing needs. Don't print everything. Remember, you can organize your computer too. Keep your digital documents organized in folders just like you are attempting to do your paper files. Keep them backed up on an external source such as an external hard drive, a flash drive, a DVD or CD. Keep in mind that technology, hardware and software, changes quickly so something you saved 5 yrs ago, may not be retrievable today so those old CD's, floppy disks, old file formats may not be retrievable. But, if you can scan documents and keep them organized and retrievable then you can do away with the paper and not have paper files. You don't have to print every email and have to file it. You don't have to print all the e-statements from your credit cards or utilities. Save them on your computer. I'm from the old school of keeping all documentation but what works for YOU? Last year I did try to scan all my receipts and then threw them away. I had them organized on my computer into folders according to tax deductible expenses and then "General Receipts", "Statements". In Quicken you can attach an image to each transaction and I did attach all the receipt and statement images to the corresponding transaction in Quicken. I liked it but it takes too much time scanning all those receipts and statements, naming and filing them in their digital folders and then attaching them in Quicken. So I'm back to saving them in my filing cabinet and binder.

* Base your filing on retrieval, not storage. Instead of asking yourself, "Where should I file this?" ask yourself, "Where would I look for this if I need it?" Then create your files accordingly. For instance, I have a vehicle folder for each vehicle we own including the camper and the boat. In this permanent file for each vehicle I have the title, any original purchase agreements, loan papers, repair and maintenance records. In the active file for each vehicle I have copies of the loan papers and payment records for that year. Where would you put property tax receipts or insurance statements for vehicles? Ask yourself the question, "Where would I look for this if I need it?" When I asked myself that question, my answer was, "I would look in the Property Tax folder and the Property Insurance folder rather than the vehicle's permanent or active file folders". What about you?

* Plan your filing needs. Make a list of section areas for broad categories, then hanging file folders for categories and file folders for sub-categories. For instance: You have a hanging file folder for "Insurance" and you make file folders for "Car Ins", "Medical Ins", "Life Ins", "Homeowner's Ins", "Umbrella Ins", "Disability Ins". Or you have a section for "Utilities" and you make folders for "Electric", "Gas", "Telephone", "Garbage Pickup", "Pest Control", "Water & Sewer". Or maybe you have a section for "Medical" and you make file folders for each member of your family. Just make a list of more general categories and then the sub-categories. Once you have a plan, then you are ready to make your folders and labels.

* Insert new papers into the front of the file folder so that the latest and most recent is always on top, the oldest is always on the bottom.

* Use color coding for easy, quick identification. Office supply stores have all kinds of files and labels to do this.

* Alphabetize! You don't have to alphabetize everything. But when it makes sense, alphabetize. For instance, I have my files in sections:

Credit Cards - a file folder for each credit card and they are ALPHABETIZED!

Dogs - I keep a folder on each dog and I have 5 dogs so they are ALPHABETIZED!

Insurance/Property Taxes - Two folders, one for property insurance and one for property taxes.

Medical - I have a folder for all doctor's bills and medicine purchases.

House - Our mortgage statements go in one folder and all receipts for remodeling/landscaping/additions/maintenance go in the second folder.

Stan's Business - I have a folder for Accts Receivables (invoices, income that comes in and deposit slips) and Accts Payables (anything he purchases for business use). It's a small business on the side so this is enough for us.

Vehicles - I keep a permanent file on each vehicle in which I keep all titles, purchase agreements, repairs, purchases in that folder. If I have a vehicle loan, then I keep a separate folder for that where all the loan papers go along with statements and payment records.

Utilities - I keep files for each utility and they are ALPHABETIZED!

If you have files on clients, probably should be ALPHABETIZED. If you have employee files, probably be good to ALPHABETIZE. When it makes sense, alphabetize to help you find your file quickly and efficiently.

Of course, there are unique ways to alphabetize. You may file Duke Power (electrical utility company) under "E" for "Energy" instead of "D" for "Duke Power". Or Verizon under "C" for "cell phone". If that works for you, by all means use it. The point is to make it fast, efficient and functional for YOU!

But then there are the people... well, I knew a woman who could NOT file! We would find John Doe's file in the "W"s. Why? Because she put it there, no rhyme or reason and files got lost frequently. It was so frustrating working with her.

* Chronological (Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, etc.) filing. There are times when it makes sense to file chronologically. For instance, I always put bank statements in order by month. Or you may have to keep correspondence on a project and you would want to file by date from oldest to most recent. Maybe you have to keep notes on a subject and you keep them chronologically.

* Make it a rule to always refile things. Last month, I had to call our cable company about a charge on their recent statement. I pulled that file folder and made my notes on a sticky notepad and stuck it to the statement. I made sure I wrote down the date/time/person I was talking to. You can also jot these notes on the statement itself or the back of the statement. Now, did I leave that file on my desk? Did I place it in a basket? You should know me better by now! NO, I re-filed it. Just pulled the drawer out and placed it back where it came from. Always put it back!

* Life is continually changing, so do maintenance on your filing system to keep up! Of course, if you find that your system is no longer working for you, change it! I do this at the end of the year to get ready for the next year. I move all the previous year into their box to go into the attic for storage. I move all the last year's files into a designated file drawer marked "Last Year's Files" to keep them close for taxes and other needs. Then I make all the new folders for the coming year. This is when I make any changes to my filing system.

I found this list of possible categories at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_g/G-229.pdf

Autos and Vehicles

Bank Records
Checking accounts
Savings accounts

Loan contracts
Safety deposit box (list of contents)


Employment Records
Employment contracts
Retirement or pension plans
Social security records
Fringe benefits

Equipment, Appliances Warranties
Use-and-care manuals
Kitchen Range, refrigerator
Air conditioner
Small appliances
Personal care appliances
Lawn mower
Recreation equipment

Financial Records
Net worth statement
Records of earnings
Records of expenditures
Loan contracts
Credit card numbers
Property tax records
Receipts and paid bills

Mortgage papers and payments or Lease and rent payments
Capital improvements (remodeling, additions, landscaping, maintenance and repair costs, etc)
Household inventory (second copy in safety deposit box)
Floor plan
Wiring diagrams

Income Tax
Previous returns
Cancelled checks (related to tax)
Current year information (medical receipts, contributions)

Insurance Policies

Bonds–records of
Stocks–records of
Real estate investments
Other investments

Organizations, Clubs

Personal Records
Educational records
Marriage license
Medical records
Pet papers
Military records
Wills, copy of
Birth certificate
Divorce papers

Reference Material
Crafts or hobbies
Home furnishings
Magazine articles
Others of interest to you

For more posts on filing, check out http://sharonscrapbook.blogspot.com/2010/03/filing-for-taxes.html

There are many ways to store your files.

This works well. But it doesn't have to be in boxes (except those old files in permanent storage). If you have the space and the money to purchase commercial filing cabinets then do so.

And here is one of my commercial lateral file cabinets that I had painted in brown to match the dark wood in my office.

This is my second commercial lateral file cabinet, beside my desk, in the background.

They are made for maximum storage and heavy usage. You can have them painted to match your decor or you can paint them, enclose them, paper them. But they are the best. Most are lockable too.

Next, if having file cabinets to match your decor is important to you, you can buy real wood cabinets that look wonderful and are very functional or have them built in.

Last on my list, are those filing cabinets that are made cheaply out of thin metal or faux wood. Laminated sawdust board file cabinets are what we find most frequently, as are the thin cheap metal file cabinets. I'm NOT a fan but if that's all you can have, it's better than nothing. Why don't I like them? Laminate can come unglued, chip and crack. Screws can come out of sawdust board and shelving will swag in the middle. And water is the death of it! It will swell when wet and ruin. Cheap metal can get dinged and warped and can't hold a lot of weight. Weight strains those cheap drawers. But, those are my opinions.

I did a Google search on filing cabinets and here is what I found:

Built in filing cabinets are the ultimate!

This oak filing cabinet is gorgeous!

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