5 Types of Mail You Can Safely Throw Away (and 4 You Can’t)

No one likes for their home to be taken over by piles of paperwork. But when you're staring at a fresh stack of incoming mail, it can be tough to figure out which envelopes you need to keep and which ones you can safely toss straight into the recycling bin.

Do you hate clutter? If so, you’ll be happy to learn that you don’t need to hang onto every letter or document that finds its way into your mailbox. Eric Nisall, personal finance and tax expert, weighs in with some advice on five types of mail that you don’t need to keep.

Before you toss out any mail or documents containing your personal information (name, address, account numbers, etc.), run those papers through a paper shredder first. Add these revealing everyday documents you never knew you should shred to that list while you’re at it.

Types of mail you can safely throw away:

Bank statements

When it comes to your bank statements, the good news is that you can probably opt to have them delivered to you electronically. In fact, depending upon your bank or credit union, switching over to electronic statements might even reduce your monthly fees.

If you prefer having physical banks statements delivered, Nisall says it’s fine to discard them immediately after you’ve reviewed them since you will most likely have access to at least a year’s worth online.

Monthly bills

Have you been hanging on to monthly bills, like utilities or credit card statements, after they’ve been paid? There’s no need to do so, once you’ve reviewed the bill for accuracy.

Nisall says, “Once you’re satisfied that the bill is for the correct amount, you can shred it immediately since it serves no purpose going forward. If you ever need to show a utility bill for proof of residency, you can go online and print off the last statement and not waste your space with useless paper.”

Credit card offers

The pre-approved credit card offer is another culprit that commonly clogs up mailboxes. And while you can potentially access some great reward-earning opportunities this way, if you’re not currently in the market for a credit card, Nisall says there’s no need to hang on to them. “Most [pre-approved credit card offers] are time-sensitive anyway,” Nisall points out, “so there is no benefit to saving these documents.” These should definitely be shredded before being tossed.

If you want to stop receiving pre-approved offers of credit in the mail, the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to do this—visit OptOutPrescreen.com to learn how.

Neighborhood coupons and junk mail

If you’re like most people, your mailbox is probably filled with neighborhood shopping coupons and other types of junk mail. Whether you’re receiving vacation offers, insurance solicitations, or anything similar, there’s no reason to keep you from tossing those papers directly into your recycling bin—unless you plan to use a coupon or sales paper to save on an upcoming purchase.
Keep in mind, if a piece of junk mail contains any of your personal information (such as your name, address, etc.), a number of experts advocate for shredding those documents first. Even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that “Destroying documents with your personal information reduces the likelihood of becoming an identity theft victim.” Here’s how to stop getting so much junk mail in the first place.

Invitations and thank you notes

These days, it’s common to receive an invitation to your friend’s birthday party on Facebook. Your niece might send you an email invite to a Christmas party online. But sometimes you’ll still receive a good old fashioned thank you note or invitation in your mailbox. Should you keep it or toss it in the trash after the event has come and gone? The answer to that question depends entirely upon how you feel about clutter (and probably how you feel about the person who sent the invite or thank you note in the first place).

The good news is, there’s really no right or wrong answer here. Plus, you can always scan the note or invitation and save the memory without taking up any physical space in your home.

Types of mail you need to keep

Here’s a look at some of the documents you should probably hold onto—at least for a while.

W–2s and 1099s

Your W-2s and 1099s need to be saved for seven years. If you’re wondering why, Nisall explains that it’s an IRS requirement as they support your tax returns. In addition, you may need up to two year’s worth when trying to get a mortgage or student loan. After the seven-year period is up, you can shred, then toss.

Pay stubs

Your pay stubs represent another type of document that you shouldn’t be so quick to throw away. Why? You might need them to prove your income if you are you are looking to rent/lease a home or a car, or get a loan, Nisall explains. However, you probably don’t need to hang on to every pay stub you’ve ever received; just the most recent three or four.

Insurance policies

When you take out insurance coverage, the insurance company will often send you a copy of the full policy in the mail. (If they fail to do so, you should request a copy.)

Of course, you need to keep copies of any active policies, but Nisall says you only need to “keep your insurance policy until the new period takes over. Once you sign and pay for a new policy, the old one ceases to be valid, so unless you are interested in comparing the rates/coverages over time, [copies of old insurance policies] will provide very little value.”

Medical bills

When it comes to any medical bills you receive in the mail, hold onto medical bills for one year before you discard them, recommends the FTC. However, if you’re in the middle of an insurance dispute over any medical charge, you may need to hold onto those bills for a longer period of time. Read on to find out what happens to undeliverable mail with no return address.

Michelle L. Black
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert, finance writer and travel writer with nearly 20 years of experience. She's also the founder of CreditWriter.com, a judgment-free personal finance community for busy moms like herself. When she's not writing about credit and money, Michelle loves to travel with her family of five—usually to somewhere sunny and warm.