How to Safely Dispose of Old Bills

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If you're like the average adult who has a bank account and carries a credit card in their wallet, you probably receive--and dispose of--a small mountain of bills and other financial documents every month. Credit thieves actually do look through garbage to get personal information, so just tossing your old statements in the trash is not safe.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper shredder
  • Long scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Old coffee can or plastic trash can
  • Bleach
  • Figure out which paperwork contains personal financial information. This includes bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills, credit card offers, credit card checks, notices from government agencies such as Social Security and the IRS, paycheck stubs and out-of-date checks and deposit slips.

  • Buy a cross-cut shredder if you can afford it. This is your safest option. Consider splitting the cost of a shredder with friends, since you can shred a month's worth of papers in just a few minutes. If a standard strip-style shredder is more affordable, tear bills in half before or after shredding to make them harder to reassemble. Distribute the strips into more than one recycling bag.

  • Destroy the important parts of your documents. If you don't have a shredder, just destroy the parts that identify you personally. Use scissors or a hole punch to obliterate your name, account number and credit card number before you throw the bill away. Take a close look at your credit card bills; some include your card number is as many as five places, including buried within code numbers across the top or bottom. Destroy your name and address, and the account number along the bottom, of any checks and bank deposit slips--especially those free checks sent by credit card companies.

  • Feed your documents into a campfire (in a legal burning location) or soak them in an old coffee can or plastic trash can with a tight-fitting lid. Once they're thoroughly wet, add bleach. Let soak for at least several days, then drain and dispose of pulp in the trash. Reduce the volume by tearing your name, address and account number off the bills and soaking only that portion. If you have no other way, tear the bill into pieces by tearing through your name and account number.

  • Contact your credit card companies, banks and utility companies and ask to make your accounts "paperless." You can retrieve and pay your bills online and won't have to deal with so much potentially dangerous paperwork. Keep a log book of your bills to review at least once a month because you won't have the incoming mail to trigger your memory.

Tips & Warnings

  • Get a home mailbox from which mail can't be removed without a key, and drop your outgoing mail in an official postal service box.
  • Keep a shredder by the table where you sort your incoming mail and shred credit card offers as you go.
  • Develop a system for bills: Keep your paid bills in a file (or another shoe box) for 6 months and then start a second box. At the end of the year, shred the first box; every 6 months, shred the older box of papers.
  • Call the Consumer Credit and Reporting Agency at 1-888-567-8688 and ask to "opt out" of receiving credit card offers by mail.
  • Be careful using shredders; keep fingers, sleeves and jewelry out of the intake area.
  • Be careful using household bleach, which is a skin and eye irritant.
  • Use hand lotion before handling a large volume of paper to prevent paper cuts.

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