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Archiving and storing documents: the best tips and tricks

Archiving documents and keeping them safe can quickly become a challenge. Because over time, there are tons of papers, invoices and contracts that have to be sorted and labeled. So that you don't lose track, we explain what you should know about the topic.

To store documents correctly, you need patience and perseverance - but the work is worth it, because everyone knows: "Order is half the battle". If you no longer want to look in vain for important documents in the pile of paper on your desk, you can make your life easier with just a few steps.

But what does a document actually mean? In principle, documents contain relevant or important information. These do not always have to be in paper form; they can also contain digital information of any kind. However, they always serve as legal security, so that the present letter can prove exactly what was planned or carried out - for example, they document a payment or other legally significant transactions.

Retention periods for documents

In contrast to companies, traders or the self-employed, private individuals are usually not subject to any statutory retention requirements. The only exception are tradesman's bills, which have to prove that no illegal work has been carried out (Section 14b (1) UStG). Nevertheless, it is advisable to archive other important documents for a certain period of time. The following retention periods should at least be observed:

There is no regulated retention period for sales contracts, receipts, invoices and guarantee documents. When buying new goods, however, you conclude a purchase contract in accordance with the German Civil Code, which is valid for two years. In addition, you should keep tradesman's bills, bills from doctors, lawyers and notaries for the same length of time.

Complaints and claims for defects in the home.

High earners with an annual salary of more than 500,000 euros a year must keep their bank statements for at least six years.

Court judgments, dunning notices and trial files

Some documents need to be kept for a lifetime. These include medical reports, training certificates, diplomas, birth certificates, baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates for family members and documents for calculating pensions. The latter also includes employment contracts, pay slips and social security records.

In general, private tax documents do not have to be kept. However, if a tax assessment is marked “provisional” or “subject to review”, the documents should be kept until they have been fully clarified.

  • Loan agreements and insurance policies

Contracts for banking products should be available for the entire term and for about three years after the end of this term. The same applies to insurance documents.

Design the filing system for documents

A well-structured filing system is the best way to keep documents safe and secure for a long time. Which type of storage you choose mainly depends on your preferences. For small offices and few documents, a small cupboard is enough that you can simply slide under the desk. If you don't want to have space problems later, you should invest directly in a spacious cupboard that offers enough storage space for files and folders. For documents that you do not need all the time, you can purchase several Din-A4 folders, which you label accordingly and provide with dividers. You can also use the folder color to make different content clear. For example, all house building folders can be green and finances folders black. If you prefer uniform folders, you should attach importance to precise labeling so that you have the required papers to hand quickly.

For important documents that are used again and again in the office, labeled hanging files are suitable, which are kept in a corresponding hanging file cabinet. The size, color and design of the cabinet can be selected individually.
But the cassette registry, consisting of plastic cassettes in DIN A4 landscape format, is also suitable for direct and quick access to individual files.

If you have papers in the office or at home that you need again and again or that still need to be processed, you can simply put them on a letter tray. However, avoid collecting too many documents there, otherwise clutter will quickly arise again.

Fireproof document cassette

Fireproof document cassettes are ideal for protecting important documents such as passports or birth certificates in the event of fire or flooding. They can withstand high temperatures for up to 60 minutes and are extremely stable and robust, so that thieves hardly stand a chance. The dimensions of most of the cassettes correspond to the DIN A4 format and can therefore also store DIN A4 folders or entire registers. They also have a handle and can therefore be easily transported.

Digital storage of documents

The amount of documents that one collects in the course of a lifetime is often quite considerable. But not infrequently there is not enough space to store all documents. One solution here is the digital storage of documents. There are various archiving software for documents. This requires precise research as to which software is suitable for you. If you mainly want to save e-mails, this can be a problem for some software. A good archiving program can not only handle scanned paper documents or PDFs, but should also automatically assign e-mails and their attachments to the correct electronic files.

If you prefer to digitize your documents yourself without software, then you need a good scanner and sufficient storage space in the form of an external hard drive. There are many reasons to scan your documents: If you save documents electronically and in copy, you can protect them from loss or destruction. You can also save office space and potentially money. And last but not least, you can improve your office organization: electronic archiving creates and maintains order and an overview.

It is advisable to create a second external hard drive to be on the safe side so that no data can be lost. Hard drives with a mirror function are a fairly safe solution for storing important data. The principle: There are two hard drives in one housing. The two hard drives communicate with each other and mirror their content - twice as good. If one of the disks is defective, there is always the second.

However, after 5 to 10 years it is advisable to buy a new hard drive, because digital storage media also have a limited shelf life. If a hard drive of a so-called raid system shows flaws, you should buy two new ones. The interfaces or connections between the storage medium and the computer also change from time to time - another reason to transfer the data to new external drives.

Once you have digitized your documents, it is of course also important to create order on the hard drive. To do this, you can simply create a suitable folder structure with the appropriate name. You also have the option of tagging the individual files. When it comes to file type, you should use tried and tested formats such as JPEG and PDF, which also promise a certain degree of future security. It is better to avoid exotic file formats.

At least the folders that contain sensitive documents should be encrypted. As a rule, the standard encryption function of the operating system is sufficient for this. Be sure to write down the password and save it in a place that you can still remember in 10 years - if you forget it, there is hardly any possibility of accessing the encrypted data. Encryption is essential if your computer has Internet access, because there are now a lot of Trojans in circulation, especially for Windows systems, that can spy out the data of other computers.

Store documents online in the cloud

Online storage can also be used for data archiving. It's easy and inexpensive, if not free. There are many providers: Dropbox, Amazon or Google Drive are some of the big services. But those who rely on convenient cloud services also have to have a lot of trust: Ultimately, you give your data into the hands of other companies. They are only as secure as the respective provider makes them. You may also have running costs and no control over the future of the service provider. Cloud storage is therefore not the first choice for sensitive data.

Store documents externally

The Berlin company Deba Bauarchiv GmbH offers a service especially for property owners. She specializes in storing and managing the documents of mostly private property owners. "The customers bring their files to us, we index them and store them with us under special security precautions," explains Managing Director Ben Stoffregen. If the customer needs a document or a copy, he can request it from Deba, which will send it by post or courier. Because documents get lost again and again when moving. "That cost a current customer a lot of money: To add another storey to his house, he had to spend tens of thousands of euros on new statics and other analyzes."