Important Paperwork: What To Keep and How Long


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If you’re like most people, you probably have a box or two of old files cluttering your closet or a desk drawer that is stuffed to the brim with papers. It’d be nice to sort through all these documents and purge what you don’t need anymore, but knowing what to keep and for how long can be difficult. As a certified professional daily money manager, a national certified guardian and a California licensed professional fiduciary, I often get questions from clients about how to be more organized without making costly mistakes.

Managing all the important paperwork for one household is confusing enough, but things can become even more complicated for family caregivers who also have financial and medical power of attorney (POA) and help oversee their aging loved ones’ files, too. To help caregivers pare down their paperwork and create a straightforward filing system, I’ve provided general rules for most common documents below. However, be careful about getting rid of original paperwork. Don’t throw anything away unless you are sure you can obtain another physical or electronic copy of a record from the bank, insurance company, doctor, your employer, etc.

How Long to Keep Tax Returns and Supporting Documents

Anything to do with taxes should be kept for at least seven years. The IRS has a three-year window from your due date to audit your tax return if it suspects good faith errors. You also have the same amount of time to file an amended return if you find you made a mistake. However, the IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income by 25 percent or more. If you fail to file a return or filed a fraudulent return, there is no limit on when the IRS can come after you.

Specific items you should keep in addition to your tax returns themselves include documentation of income, alimony, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, retirement plan contributions and any other tax deductions taken.

Organizing Medical Bills and Health Records

Keep all medical bills and supporting documentation, such as cancelled checks or credit card statements, until you are sure that the bill has been confirmed as paid in full by you and/or your insurance company. If you are deducting unreimbursed medical expenses on your tax return, keep all supporting documentation as discussed above. Remember to keep all health-related bills, including dental, vision, hearing aids and over-the-counter medications, to name a few.

Retirement Plan Statements

Keep your quarterly statements until you receive your annual summary document. If everything matches up, you can then shred the quarterly statements. Hold onto your annual summaries until you close the associated account(s).

IRA Contribution Paperwork

If you made an after-tax contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA), you will need to keep your statements regarding these contributions indefinitely. Otherwise, you won’t be able to prove that you already paid tax on this money when it is time to make a withdrawal. Without careful record-keeping, you may risk paying unnecessary taxes on distributions that should be tax-free.

Brokerage Statements

You must keep these until you sell the securities covered by them to prove whether you incur capital gains or losses for your tax return. If you hold stocks or bonds for many years, you will need to keep the statements. The exception is if the cost basis and date of acquisition are listed on the statements. In this case, you only need to keep the year-end statements to support your tax return each year.


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Bank Records

Keep any checks or statements related to your taxes, such as business expenses, home improvements or mortgage payments for at least seven years.

Bills

Keep bills until you receive the cancelled check or credit card statement showing that your payment was received. Be sure to hold onto receipts for big purchases like jewelry, furniture, art, appliances, automobiles and electronics so that you can prove the value of these items to your insurance company in the event they are lost, stolen or destroyed in a covered disaster such as a fire.

Homeownership Documents

Keep all records documenting the purchase price of any property, the cost of all improvements, as well as records of expenses incurred in selling and buying property for seven years after the sale or purchase.

Reconciling Credit Card Receipts and Statements

Keep original receipts until your credit card statements arrive and then go through the charges one at a time to ensure they match. You can then discard the receipts. If your statements document any tax-related expenses, retain them for seven years.

Paycheck Stubs

Keep your paycheck stubs until you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer(s) and make sure the information matches. If they don’t match, request a corrected W-2 from your employer(s).

Using the above guide, you should be able to clear out the bulk of your saved paperwork and then establish a system for keeping up with things moving forward. Remember, you can obtain many of these documents in a digital format, or you can scan the hard copies and archive them electronically. If the task seems overwhelming, you might want to consider enlisting the help of a daily money manager, accountant or professional organizer. The most important part is finding a system or solution that simplifies managing your own health and finances and that of your aging loved one.

Reprinted from AgingCare

Facebook Security Compromises

Facebook security compromises are in the news in recent weeks, and scammers are taking advantage of this in a variation of the “tech support scam” we have previously written about. And because Facebook’s security issues are top of mind for many, calls from these scammers can sound more credible.
How It WorksYou will receive an auto-dialed call (or robocall) claiming to be from Facebook, warning that your account has a security issue. The caller directs you to press 1 if you pick up the call or they will leave a phone number for you to call back, under threat that they will suspend your account. When you talk to a “representative,” they will ask you for your login credentials or other personal information. They may go on to claim that you have a computer virus that they will fix for a fee, if you let them take control of your computer remotely.
What You Should Know•Facebook is not going to call to tell you of an account problem.•Anytime someone contacts you and requests remote access to your computer, it is a scam. The goal is to convince you of a problem you don’t have to get you to pay for a repair you don’t need, or to install software that gives the scammer access to social or financial accounts.
What You Should Do•If you get an unsolicited call claiming to be from Facebook, do not press 1 to speak to a representative, and do not return the call.•Don’t rely on results of an online search for “Facebook customer service,” as many authentic-looking pages are phony.•If you have concerns about your Facebook account, log on and click “Settings” to review your privacy settings. If you think your account has been compromised, set a new password immediately.•If you have been targeted by this scam or have fallen victim, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.

7 Behaviors That Can Make You Vulnerable to Fraud

What makes you prone to getting scammed? It may be the personality traits that make you a good person. Based on our research at the AARP Fraud Watch Network, here are some characteristics that make people vulnerable to fraud:

1. You respect authority. Many common scams are perpetrated by crooks impersonating a police officer, an IRS or Social Security agent, or a court representative. Always remember this: Government offices rarely call citizens to conduct business — and they never demand quick payment. If that’s what the caller wants, put aside your inclination to defer to authority figures. Just hang up.

2. You like to please people. One scam we’ve been seeing hits people at work and plays on your good nature. An email from a boss or coworker asks you to buy some expensive gift cards and take photos of the front and back of the card to get reimbursed. The email is actually from a scammer mimicking the real thing. Once he has the numbers from the gift cards, he uses them before the fraud is caught.

3. You are cocky. We often hear from victims, “I’ve never been defrauded. I thought I was too smart.” If you believe you are immune to being cheated, think again. Scammers are professionals — and endlessly creative. 

4. You slipped up once. Sadly, if you have already been scammed, chances are good the fraud calls will increase. Thieves put your information on a “victim list” that gets sold to other scammers or criminal rings.

5. You’re friendly. Many victims who call us met their scammer on social media via a friend request. Try to limit social media contact to real friends and family, and turn down requests from people you don’t know. 

6. You are under stress. We also get lots of calls from people who were tricked into giving away personal info while dealing with an illness or another stressful event. People who have recently lost a loved one are also vulnerable, especially if the obituary reveals details that a crook can use as bait. Be especially vigilant during times of crisis.

7. You’re lonely. The Fraud Watch Network has found that many scam victims report feeling lonely and isolated from family and friends. That makes them susceptible to the fake friendliness of professional thieves. If you feel lonely or isolated, AARP and AARP Foundation have programs to help you connect with people in your community. Go to connect2affect.org.

5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls


Woman on phone


  Unwanted phone calls and text messages continue to surge, no matter what efforts lawmakers and regulators take to curb them. In the first four months of this year, call-blocking service YouMail reports, more than 12 billion robocalls were made to American homes. That’s about 4 million every hour, and a steady increase from last year. Live calls from telemarketers have also continued to increase.

Why? Sadly, the answer is that they work. It costs scammers and spammers only a few dollars per day to simultaneously blast tens of millions of calls with autodialers. Senders — many of them con artists — spend about $438 million per year on robocalls. Those calls generate more than 20 times that amount in income, almost $10 billion a year.

The crooks generating the calls easily hide their tracks. Calls may travel through a maze of networks. They often display on caller ID screens with phony “spoofed” numbers that may appear to be local or from trusted businesses and government agencies. And they are changed frequently on purpose.

It’s nothing personal. Spammers often don’t know who owns targeted numbers, or even if the numbers are active. But no doubt you’ve been targeted, and you will continue to be. So how do you defend yourself?

You can try not picking up. But the calls that reach your voicemail greeting could flag that yours is a working number — and ripe for future calls.


Here’s a list of do-it-yourself defenses that have dropped the automated and live spam calls received by more than 90 percent.

  • Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is an unsolicited “live” caller, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
  • Try a “not in service” recording. Using a portable tape recorder and a microphone attached to a handset, I copied a “this number is not in service” message during a callback to a scammer’s spoofed number. Since it’s cued, I sometimes play that recording — again, saying nothing — when answering calls before they go into voicemail in hopes my number will be removed from spammer calling lists. So far, I have not gotten a single callback from those incoming numbers.
  • Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month.

Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month — or for free in the case of Youmail.

Another freebie for virtually every landline user: Press *77 to block “anonymous” and “private” numbers, then deactivate it anytime with *87.

To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.

  • Know which calls to avoid. The most common calling cons are pitches that promise to reduce debt and credit card rates or to get you preapproved loans; offer free or low-cost vacations, time-shares, home security systems and medical supplies; or come from government and utility company impostors.
  • A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges. 

Robocalls tend to be highest on Friday and Tuesday.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

In May alone, some 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke with many unaware that they were even at risk. Less than a third will arrive in the emergency room within three hours, the optimal time period for better outcome

May marks National Stroke Awareness Month, and this year the National Stroke Association is turning the spotlight on the 10 modifiable risk factors that account for 90% of strokes globally.  Hypertension remains the single most important modifiable risk factor, accounting for nearly 48% of strokes. With eight in 10 people experiencing their first stroke having hypertension, getting your blood pressure checked is an important first step in controlling your stroke risk.

Research has shown that unhealthy behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and smoking have an adverse effect on health and increase your stroke risk. For example, smokers have an increased risk of stroke, up to two to four times, compared to a nonsmoker or those that have quit for longer than 10 years.

During National Stroke Awareness Month, the National Stroke Association is urging the public to look at their stroke risk factors, and pledge to make at least one change to reduce their stroke risk.

Here’s how much stroke would be reduced if each were eliminated:

– Hypertension 47.9%

– Physical inactivity 35.8%

– Lipids (blood fats) 26.8%

– Poor diet 23.2%

– Obesity 18.6%

– Smoking 12.4%

– Heart causes 9.1%

– Alcohol intake 5.8%

– Stress 5.8%

– Diabetes 3.9%

Beyond reducing your risk for stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke are equally important.  Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke and around 800,000 people will have a stroke in the United States this year alone.

“Learning how to recognize a stroke is just as important as reducing your risk factors,” says Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association. “We know that recognition of stroke symptoms leads to receiving medical attention faster, which results in better outcomes. Knowing the signs of stroke, how to prevent it, and how to help others around you, just might save a life.”

Sadly, however, fewer than half of 9-1-1 calls for stroke are made within one hour of symptom onset and fewer than half of callers correctly identify stroke as the reason for their call. The acronym FAST is an easy way to identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:

F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?

T – Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

A common misconception is that strokes occur only in older adults. Although, your stroke risk increases with age, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. About 15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents.

The need for public awareness surrounding stroke prevention and awareness has never been greater.  Despite being a leading cause of adult long-term disability, and the fifth leading cause of death, less than one in five Americans can correctly classify all five stroke symptoms. The time to take action is now. This May, during National Stroke Awareness month, get to know your stroke risk factors and learn to better identify the signs and symptoms of stroke. The life you save just might be your own.

Reprinted from the National Stroke Association.

7 Ways Scammers Get Your Information

How Do Scammers Know So Much About Me?


graphic of emails, credit cards and webpages

  A recent caller to the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline was being tormented with fake emails and trolling phone calls from scammers who seemed to specifically target him. He asked, “How do these people know so much about me?” We get that call a lot. Many don’t understand how they get on the radar of crooks. Here are some of the ways

  • I frequently enter contests. Online contests are gateways to unwanted sales pitches. Not only do marketers collect information like name, age and address, they may learn other things — that you like to travel or are buying a car. Also, they know you believe in luck. That could make you a target.
  • I mail in warranty cards. Ever notice when you fill out a warranty card for a toaster or coffee maker that it requests information like how much money you make? It is likely that your information is being sold to others, either legitimately or as part of a scam. 
  • I fill out lots of surveys. Did you recently fill out a questionnaire rating your stay at a hotel or the service at a restaurant? Selling survey data is big business, and marketing firms and even criminals can learn a lot about you based on travel preferences, what type of home you own or what car you drive. 

Don’t post personal info, narrow who can see your posts and avoid posting real-time updates about your whereabouts.

  • I share personal updates on Facebook. Scammers turn to social media postings to learn more about those they’ve targeted. So be prudent: Don’t post personal info, narrow who can see your posts and avoid posting real-time updates about your whereabouts.
  • I live in the United States. Many public records are available at the federal, state, county and city levels, including census data, property information, criminal records, bankruptcies and tax liens. Private companies can pull together all this information on you and sell it to anyone. And it’s 100 percent legal.

Call AARP’s free Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in spotting scams. 


  • I toss my mail. Shred all mail that has your name and address, account numbers, or other personal data. If you don’t have a home shredder, save your papers for a neighborhood shredding event. (AARP sponsors these in many communities.) Messy garbage won’t deter a bad guy. 
  • Someone in my family has died recently. Obituaries are prime hunting ground for scammers, who learn the names of vulnerable widows, widowers, children or grandchildren. Honor the dead, but keep personal information in obituaries to a minimum. 

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Scam Season

With the federal tax-filing deadline days away, and with many of us having already filed, it might come as no surprise to receive a communication from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—regarding a refund, money owed or even notice of the dreaded audit. But it’s also peak season for scammers who pretend to be the IRS, with the goal of stealing your identity or your money.
How It Works Scammers, impersonating IRS agents, call and insist you have an unpaid tax bill and you face arrest unless you pay up, immediately. They employ many ways to make the hoax seem convincing. They can rig a caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from an actual IRS office, and they may even know part of your Social Security number. The call may come in as an autodialed robocall or from a live caller. The caller may also cite a nonexistent “federal student tax” that the target has neglected to pay.
What You Should Know• The IRS communicates mostly through the mail, including cases of delinquent taxes. Phone or in-person visits come only after multiple written notices•The IRS does not communicate by email or text message•The IRS never demands immediate payment and does not threaten to have you arrested if you do not pay•The IRS does not accept payment with a credit or debit card, or by gift card or wire transfer
What You Should Do •The best move is to hang up. If you think you may owe taxes, contact the IRS yourself and inquire•If you receive an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Do not click on any links or open attachments•Ask for identification if someone shows up claiming to be from the IRS. Actual IRS employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” and an HSPD-12 card

4 Ways to Save Money on Medications

Understanding why your medications are so costly doesn’t solve the problem for you. You still need the prescription drugs you do and still have limited money to spend on them.

Fortunately, there are a few options that you have to help bring your medication costs down:

1. Ask about generics or other alternatives.

As I-MAK’s research emphasizes, some of the prescription drugs you need simply won’t have generic options available. But many types of drugs do, and doctors don’t always think to mention the generic options when writing out a prescription. So be proactive about asking.

Even when a generic option isn’t available for a specific medication, you may be able to start by trying a different, more affordable drug that treats the same thing. Ask your doctor to go over all of your options so you can make a more informed decision.

2. Get the right Medicare plan.

Do your research to figure out the different Medicare prescription plans available in your area. Specifically, ask providers which of the prescriptions your doctor recommends they cover and how much they cost. Just because a plan covers a particular drug doesn’t mean that makes it affordable. Enbrel, an arthritis drug included in I-MAK’s report about over-patenting, still typically costs over $1,000 for patients with various Medicare prescription plans.

Nonetheless, the right Medicare plan can potentially save you a lot of money on the main drugs you need.

3. Look for coupons and discounts.

Pharmacy discount cards and coupon sites can save you up to 80% on the cost of prescription drugs. Some pharmacies also have their own discount programs that can help you bring medication costs down as well.

Do some research into available coupons and discounts for your medication and ask your pharmacist about any recommendations they have.

4. Look into assistance programs.

Both drug companies and government entities sometimes provide assistance programs to help seniors out with the cost of their medications.

Check the prescription drug provider’s website to see if they offer any assistance programs. Healthfinder.gov and NeedyMeds both offer resources for helping you find relevant programs you may qualify for.

What Seniors Can Do About Rising Medication Costs

Prescription drug prices are both a big problem for individuals struggling to make ends meet and a larger societal problem that’s bad for the U.S. In addition to looking for ways to make your own drugs more affordable, consider how you can help be a part of the bigger solution.

According to Amin, we should all be asking: “Why is it that seniors in the European markets are able to get access to a number of these drugs… and yet in the United States, they’re not able to?”

“The policies that the United States… doesn’t favor the consumers, it’s largely in favor of the corporation,” he explains. “Seniors need to be able to speak to their representatives.”

If you want access to the drugs you need at better rates and you want your children to be able to access them when the time comes as well, call your representatives and tell them so. Amin recommends calling and asking, “Why are companies able to have these monopoly strongholds on products for so long?”

Legislative solutions can be slow, but they’re unlikely to happen at all without pressure from the people most affected by the problem. Sharing your personal experience can bring a human face to the problem, which might help spur your representative to act

Reprinted from A Place for Mom

Scammers Lurk at Tax Time

During tax-filing season, it pays to be aware of the ways that scammers and hackers may try to put your potential refund in their pocket.

How It Works:

A number of different scams tend to ramp up during the filing season. Tax identity theft occurs when someone steals your Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax refund or to get a job. There are also computer viruses out there (the “Emotet” virus for one) that can send emails supposedly from the IRS with a fake copy of your tax return. Once you click it, you may become vulnerable to hackers. And of course, the ever-present IRS impostor scam calls tend to be much more common this time of year.

What You Should Know:

  • If the IRS receives a duplicate tax return filing using your Social Security number, you will receive a written notice through the mail.
  • Likewise, the IRS will send a notice if you have unreported income or that you and someone else are claiming the same dependents.
  • The IRS will not initiate contact with you by e-mail, text or social media. The IRS will not call you unless you have first heard from them by mail, and will never insist on payments using things like gift cards or pre-paid money cards (e.g. Green Dot).

Potential Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Being Victimized:

  • Submit your tax return as early in the tax season as possible.
  • Be careful what you share – don’t give out your personal information unless you know who is asking and why, and don’t be shy about refusing.
  • Never open e-mail attachments that are not from a verified sender.
  • Dispose of sensitive information safely – shred it with a micro-cut shredder.
  • Know your tax preparer.

Check the status of your refund after filing at www.irs.gov/refunds.  If you receive notice from the IRS that you are a victim of identity theft, call the number on the notice or 800-908-4490. Learn more at www.identitytheft.gov.

Reprinted from AARP

How the New Tax Law Affects Seniors

Tax Day is around the corner and time is of the essence when it comes to preparing your 2018 tax return.How Is the New Tax Law Affecting Seniors?

See what retirees can expect from the new tax law changes and how your tax return strategy may be different this year.

How the New Tax Law Affects Seniors

In late 2017, Congress passed a massive tax overhaul to take effect for 2018 taxes and while change brings uncertainty, the good news is that seniors may benefit from the new Trump tax plan.

If you are a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one whose finances you manage or a senior yourself, here are some of the biggest changes to expect this tax season:

1. Higher standard deduction.

Many seniors have fewer expenses to itemize, if any, as they don’t have dependents or a mortgage. In this situation, families choose the standard deduction. The new tax plan doubles the standard deduction, meaning the majority of retirees will greatly benefit as the standard deduction is more valuable.

Also, the standard deduction is generally easier and less costly if you’re getting your taxes professionally done, depending on your family’s unique situation. An expert certified public accountant (CPA) or financial advisor can help you decide what may make the most sense for you.

2. Increased deduction for medical expenses.

Healthcare is a big expense for retirees and under the new tax laws, you’re allowed to deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This means if your AGI is $60,000 and you spend $16,000 of it on healthcare, you’ll have an $11,500 deduction on your hands, which could be enough to make itemizing worth it when it comes to taxes.

When the average 65-year-old couple today is expected to spend $400,000 on medical costs in retirement, this can be substantial savings.

3. IRA charitable distribution as law.

The new laws lowered tax rates for filers in almost every income category, which can be a big benefit for seniors and their families – especially those subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs). You’re required to start taking withdrawals once you turn 70 and 1/2, when you hold funds in a traditional IRA or 401k as those withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

However, with the new tax brackets being a bit more favorable across the board, retirees may not lose quite as much of their savings to taxes with their RMDs.

4. Lower income tax rates.

Social Security benefits are a key source of income for many retirees and for many, a portion of this income is taxable. The new tax rules lowered most of the marginal income tax rates so that more income is included in the lower tax brackets. This means many seniors can benefit from a lower taxable income.

For example, the 15% tax rate dropped to 12% and the 25% tax rate dropped to 22%. It’s important to note that the new Trump tax plan did not change the amount of Social Security included in taxable income.

Don’t wait until the last minute to file your, a parent’s or senior loved one’s taxes. Filing early can help give you peace of mind and time to make sure you are informed about the new tax laws.

An expert CPA or financial advisor can help you strategize what makes the most sense for your family under the new tax plan.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom