Protect your Identity
Tips on how long to keep important financial papers
Consumer Reports’ testers fed the 19 shredders about 25,000 pages (left over from a recent printer test). Two types of shredders were tested: With a pull-out console model, you empty the device pulling out a drawer that collects the shreds; with a wastepaper-basket shredder, you lift the shredder mechanism off of a basket that holds the shreds. Each one met its claims for paper handling and destroying credit cards. The units that claimed to handle data discs (CDs and DVDs), paper clips, and staples, managed those items too.
Testers didn’t find any serious safety hazards with any of the tested shredders during testing. It would be extremely difficult for a child or an adult to put a finger into any of the shredders.
In an era when online scammers are targeting your credit-card information, Social Security number, and other important data, it’s just as important not to be lax with your paper documents.
One of the best ways to help protect your privacy is to make sure you shred important documents before you toss them. Cross-cut shredders are very effective at doing that because they slice papers horizontally and vertically.
The full review of paper shredders as well as accompanying pieces “Shredding 101: Documents to shred and those to throw away” and “How long to keep important financial papers” will be available at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/papershredders at 6 a.m. on October 19th. The review of paper shredders will also be available in the December issue of Consumer Reports magazine, on newsstands November 1st.
How to choose
If you have the room, consider one of Consumer Reports’ recommended models. They are 20 to 25 inches tall, which means that they can store more waste between emptying. You can also find desktop models, which have a smaller footprint. Keep in mind that this type might shred more slowly, and you might need to empty it more frequently than larger, more-expensive machines.
If you store your annual tax records or other important documents on data discs, make sure you choose a model that can handle them. If you’ll shred papers only occasionally, say when you sort through your monthly bills, consider a model with an “auto” button. This feature lets you keep the shredder at the ready, without the noisy motor running, until you insert papers and other items. You won’t have to turn the shredder on and off as you work.
If you frequently shred large piles of paper, consider a model like the Swingline EX100-07 Stack and Shred ($225). It lets you stack up to 100 sheets on an interior shelf and then slowly shreds while you attend to other tasks. Because you’ll want to keep tabs on the shredded paper so that the bin doesn’t get too full and possibly interfere with the shredding, look for a machine with a window for monitoring the shredded buildup. Some machines, including the GoEcoLife GXC120Ti ($200) and the Staples SPL-TXC10A ($100), lack a window but have an indicator light that lets you know when the drawer is full.
Shredding 101: Documents you should shred and those you can safely throw away
Below are listed are some of the documents CR’s experts recommend you should shred, the ones you don’t have to shred but might want to for extra security, and papers you can just toss without shredding: Shred; Monthly bills; Receipts or other papers that show your signature; Employer pay stubs.
Statements from your bank, credit-card companies, 401(k) administrator, and broker and other investment statements.
Anything that contains your Social Security number.
Expired credit cards, and prescreened credit-card offers and application.
Tax forms and tax-related documents more than seven years old.
Any documents that list a password or PIN, and anything else with personal information that you wouldn’t want a stranger to see.
All mail from your financial institution, including change-of-terms notices.
Documents from companies you’ve done business with recently, including those from recent travel. Thieves could call you masquerading as a representative from one of those businesses to try to trick you into disclosing personal information.
Toss without shredding:
Mail that contains only your name and address, if that’s public information and easy to find elsewhere. That includes items such as catalogs or flyers that aren’t from a financial institution.
Junk mail addressed to “Resident” or “Occupant.”
Source: Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.