Managing Record Retention—Retention Periods, Requirements & Guidelines

Learn about record retention rules and best practices.

Every company is required to keep records for a certain amount of time, but the best way organize and manage this process varies by company and industry. Learn why records retention management is important and how you can best track your retention periods.

Defining Document Retention

A records retention program includes the systematic storage, tracking, and destruction of business documents and records.

A retention program identifies the records that need to be kept and outlines guidelines for how long different record types should be stored and how they should be destroyed.

Why Retain Records?

What makes records retention programs a necessary evil?

Why Record Retention Matters

Disposing Too Early

Retention programs protect you in litigation and help ensure compliance with federal and state retention laws. Evidence of a consistently enforced retention program proves to the court that the destruction of business records meets all rules and regulations and can help you sidestep serious fines.

Hanging on Too Long

Being careful not to shred or destroy the right record is important, but can also lead to problems. For the most part every record will eventually pass its retention period, which is when it becomes important to be sure you’re clearing out clutter. The more sensitive records you have stored, the more sensitive information there is to lose.

Running Legal Risks

Retain Your Records Properly to Avoid Breaking the Law

In 2017, banking giant Morgan Stanley was fined $13 million—partly because of poor record retention and management.

Besides improperly storing client information they also shredded or destroyed records before their required retention periods—bringing swift legal punishment for disposing too early.

Exposing to Data Theft & Breaches

Morgan Stanley learned the hard way about how important proper record retention is, but retention is a double-edged sword.

If records pass their retention periods and start to accumulate, the danger is the increased chances for information to be stolen or lost.

Think of it like holes in the wall surrounding your business—the more records you have, the more potential holes you can have.

What Record Types Require Retention?

How to manage your record retention process.

What’s important, and what’s not?

Records to Retain

  • Medical Records & PHI
  • Financial Records
  • Business Documents
  • Employee & Personnel Records
  • Patents, Copyrights, & Trademarks
  • Insurance Records
  • Real Estate Documents
  • Pension & Profit Sharing Records

For more in-depth info on the different records to retain and how long they should be kept before shredding, check out this infographic.

Managing Retention Times

How long should I be hanging on then?

Retention Period Guidelines

Business, Financial, & Other Records

All records among the different types have their own specific retention times.

Here’s a reference for specific info on the various types of records to retain, & how long to keep them.

Retention for Medical Records & PHI

HIPAA is a primary focus in medical communities, and has specific retention times.

HIPAA requires 6 year retention periods for PHI, but can range based on record type and state laws.

Record Retention Times by State

Besides federal laws like HIPAA or SOX, retention times are also mandated by state.

Find the full list of state record retention periods laid out by their archivists here.

How to Track Retention Periods

How to make sure you’re keeping up with the times.

Electronic Document Management Systems

Nearly every record you retain can be scanned and converted to a digital format. Digital files create quick access and instant backups for a business’s entire record archives.

An electronic document management system (DMS) provides version control, remote retrieval, and OCR & indexing, making it easy for businesses to track record retention times and retrieve documents remotely.

Record Storage Facilities

offsite records storage facilities

Some records are required to be kept as hard-copies, however creating an in-house storage area wastes space and is cost prohibitive, which is where offsite storage comes in.

Offsite facilities store records in secure, climate-controlled areas with fire-suppression systems in place to ensure all threats are covered.

Facilities typically index document inventories, keeping track of documents for easy retrieval once retention times are up.

What to do When the Retention Period is Up

It’s time to wash your hands of it.

What to Keep and What to Shred

Once records finally pass their retention periods, they should be shredded and destroyed. If you want to witness the shredding yourself using mobile shredding is a great option, while offsite is also available for large projects.

Need Help Tracking Retention Periods for Your Records?

Have your retention periods tracked with record storage & DMS services from Record Nations today.

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