At one time, most families kept important documents in a fireproof lockbox or safe. Today, many vital documents are created and stored digitally. For instance, about 91 percent of federal tax returns filed in 2014 were submitted electronically, the IRS reports. Even family albums are now stored digitally. With so many important documents and irreplaceable photos preserved in digital format, it's increasingly important to know how to properly store and protect your digital documents. Here are some tips to help you make sure your files are safe and sound.
Documents You Can Store Digitally
Start with the basics. These include legal documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, mortgage documents, vehicle registration papers, marriage licenses and wills. For tax and bookkeeping purposes, keep records documenting your income, such as pay stubs, government benefit statements and alimony and child support income records. You should also maintain important financial records, such as bank statements, credit card statements, retirement and investment account information, mortgage statements, utility bills and student loan statements. The IRS recommends keeping tax statements for at least three years in most cases and longer in certain special cases. Other important documents may include medical and military records, and personal files, such as family photos, correspondence, diplomas, recordings and videos.
Digitizing Your Documents
There are a few main ways you can digitize your documents. In some cases, as with electronic tax filings, documents are created digitally to begin with, and you merely need to save an electronic copy. For files that are originally in physical format, your main options are using a scanner or taking a digital photo. The National Archives provides an online guide to how to scan documents without damaging them, along with an introduction to common file formats used for storing still images, audio files and video files.
To store your digital documents, you have three main options. One is using a personal computer, which works for a limited amount of files. A second option, which affords more storage space, is using an online cloud storage service. A third option is using a personal cloud, which is an external drive you can keep in your home and access remotely if desired. Most personal cloud drives provide 2 TB or more of file space.
Backing up Your Documents
To properly backup your documents so you don't lose them, the National Archives recommends following the 3-2-1 rule: make three copies, stored on two different media, with one copy located at a different physical location. The most efficient way to create a copy to store at another location is to use a professional cloud storage backup service. Professional backup services store files at multiple locations around the country so that extra backup copies are available in the event of a power outage or other emergency. They can also use enterprise-strength security measures to keep your documents safe.
Roy Rasmussen, co-author of "Publishing for Publicity," is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales. His specialty is helping experts reach their target market with a focused sales message. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, and business coaching.