The conventional wisdom is you only need to keep bank, credit card and other personal finance documents for six years. This is because HMRC (the taxman) can only ask to go back that far if you’re being investigated for tax purposes.
However I think the landscape has changed in recent years, and therefore everyone needs to take care about throwing things away (I shall ignore the "what if I’ve something to hide?" issue).
The most common question I get on these campaigns is "how far back can I claim?". The answer is there’s no time limit. But the problem is gathering evidence for older claims. While you can demand financial institutions send you old documents for up to six years (see the guides linked above for how), beyond that it gets tricky.
The easiest way is to ensure you have the paperwork, as this email I received recently shows.
Had a loan 22 years ago and used your reclaim PPI template to request a refund of this as I still had some of the paperwork, which I copied and sent with the claim. Needless to say, the first response was ‘can’t find any record of this loan’.
"I then wrote another letter spelling out the loan details, the account number it was paid into, etc. All of this was included on the copied paperwork already, but lo and behold my perseverance paid off!
"While I would have been delighted to have my PPI refunded, I was happily surprised to be offered a larger amount for the interest on the original amount. Thank you Martin Lewis."
And don’t think this won’t be relevant in the digital age. You can’t assume the virtual documentation will be kept on financial institution’s servers any longer than they keep the files in the vaults.
Think carefully before chucking files
Evidence of systemic mis-selling often takes years to work through the system. So it’s impossible now to say what you may need the paperwork for in a few yearsβ time. Therefore for safety, keeping old documents β even for now-closed products – as long as you can is a reasonable precaution.
You may also want to print out (or save online, see Cheap Memory Cards) any digital statements or applications. This is especially true if you’re switching products or closing one β for ease it’s worth copying your statements online while you’ve still got access to them.
If you’re trying to save space, it’s probably not necessary to keep everything once it hits its six-year birthday. Just application and acceptance forms and a couple of statements a year should at least give you some comfort.
Of course you could stretch this even further with such issues as Flight Delays Compensation now popping up, where you can go back to delays in 2005. It shows almost all documentation and notes you’d taken could be worth keeping, depending on the eventuality.