What To Do With Old Checkbooks? [How To Dispose Of Them Safely]

Most of us are using online banking and don’t deal with many paper checks in our day-to-day lives. However, sometimes it is still necessary to use a check or to receive one as payment. When we close an account or simply have old checkbooks or checks, we need to dispose of them safely.

Checks contain enough personal information that a criminal could use to carry out identity theft or perpetrate fraud against you. Therefore, we must destroy old checkbooks, checks, and deposit slips associated with our accounts.

The most effective way to completely dispose of old checkbooks is to burn them, ensuring that all personal information and account numbers have been destroyed. Another great option is to use a crosscut shredder to destroy old checks, making it nearly impossible to reassemble an account number.

A more creative solution is to soak the checks in water, bleach, vinegar, or soda to reduce the paper to pulp. Essentially, any method that completely destroys the personal information and account number on the check will work.

You may wonder why you need to destroy old checks completely, how long you should be keeping them, and how to store the essential ones. Continue reading for details on protecting your important documents, as well as timetables and methods for destroying them.

Why Might I Need To Dispose Of Old Checks?

Closing A Bank Account

There are multiple reasons why you might choose to close a bank account. Perhaps you are moving to a new city or state, and there is not a local branch. Maybe you currently bank with a local credit union, and you are moving to a national chain. Or, you’ve had an issue with your current bank and want to change providers. Whatever the reason, you may have old used or unused checkbooks to dispose of.

Carbonless Checks Used As A Check Register

You may have no intentions of changing banks, but you’ve got years’ worth of old carbon or carbonless checkbooks that you have thrown in a drawer. You don’t need to keep all of those used checkbooks in their entirety. 

If your bank images your checks, you can keep the image instead of the used checkbooks. If you want to stay on the safe side, you can keep the old checkbooks for 3 years in the event that you need to consult them to reconcile any issues with your bank. It would be best to keep any individual check carbons related to paying your taxes or support your tax documents for 7 years. 

Most checkbooks come with a few deposit slips at the back. Because these have the same information on them as your checks, you should dispose of them as thoroughly as you would a regular check. 

Checks You Received As Payment

You may receive a physical payroll check every two weeks. Or perhaps you got a paper check abundance check rather than a direct deposit.  If you deposit paper checks via mobile upload, you will still have the check-in your possession even after the deposit is cleared. You should hold onto the check for two weeks, then destroy it as you would any other check. 

Why It Is So Important To Destroy Old Checks?

Destroy Checks To Prevent Identity Theft

Your personal checks contain information that could be used for identity theft. Your checks have your name, address, bank, and bank account number already printed on them. You may also have included your phone number and date of birth for convenience (although you shouldn’t). 

This is the basic information that an identity thief needs to open new accounts in your name or access the accounts you already have. If you share the account with another person and both of you have information printed on the check, that is even more information that a potential identity thief may have access to.

Destroy Checks To Prevent Fraud Or Scams

Along the same lines as identity theft, a malicious person may use the information on your checks to convince you that they are a valid representative of your bank or other institution. Since they already have some private information, it may add validity to their argument in an effort to convince you to reveal even more.

Destroy Checks To Prevent Fraud Or Scams

How to Destroy Old Checks and Checkbooks?

When destroying old documents, including checks and checkbooks, the goal is to ensure that no one can retrieve the information from those documents. If you just throw them out in the garbage, it is fairly easy for someone with ill intent to go through the trash and pull out a checkbook.

Even if you tear them into pieces, it is still fairly easy to put them together to get the information. Instead of taking a risk, try one of the following methods.

Burn Old Checkbooks and Documents

A sure way that an identity thief cannot retrieve your information from an old checkbook is to burn it. Ensure that each page is burned completely, especially the areas with your name and address and the account number. 

You can burn them in your home fireplace, but do so carefully, one at a time. You don’t want to put a lot of paper in the fireplace that might blow out into your living room. 

If you want to burn them outdoors, check with the city and county for restrictions and regulations on burning trash. Always keep water and/or a fire extinguisher nearby and use all safety precautions.

Shredding Checkbooks at Home

You can purchase shredders at a local store or online. Some shredders make your documents into long ribbons of paper. These are usually the least expensive. They are effective; however, it is not too hard to tape these strips back together to retrieve information from them.

A cross-cut shredder is a more secure choice for home shredding. It reduces whatever you are shredding into tiny pieces like confetti. This makes it much more difficult to piece together any particular document from the garbage. 

A home paper shredder starts at about 25 dollars and goes up depending on the features, how many sheets it will shred at a time, and so on. If you need a budget-friendly option, try these paper shredding scissors. They are available for less than 5 dollars.

Shredding Checkbooks Using a Shredding Service

You may want to choose a shredding service, especially if you have a large bulk of material that needs to be shredded. These companies generally charge around $1 per pound for their services and can handle small bits of metal like paper clips and staples. 

When you search in your area for shredding services, you will find that some places, like UPS stores, offer shredding services. Office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot also offer the service in their business centers.

Other places are committed to shredding and take drop-offs from individuals. Shedding services generally send the destroyed paper to recycling services for reuse.

Use Company’s Shredding Service

Many businesses have a contract with a local shredding company. Check with your boss for permission to include your personal documents in the company shredding.

Reducing Checks to Paper Pulp

Another method for destroying old checks and checkbooks is to reduce the paper they are made of to pulp. You can do this by soaking them in various liquids. This process can take several days, so be prepared to deal with it for a bit.

Fill a bin with water, vinegar, bleach, OR carbonated soda: Not all of the above. Add the papers you want to destroy and let them soak. You will have to stir them a bit each day until the paper breaks down, then you can drain off the liquid and throw out the pulp.

A quicker solution for destroying paper checks is to run them through the washing machine. But don’t just toss them in. Get a canvas bag that zips closed and put the checks in the bag loosely. They will need room to bounce around.  

Make sure that the bag is securely zipped. You may want to use a safety pin to keep the zipper firmly shut so that you don’t end up with paper pulp in your washer. Then run the whole bag through the washer on hot. That will destroy the paper and ink on the checks. 

Creative Uses for Paper Pulp

For the DIY-ers, you can use that paper pulp to make new paper or add it to your compost bin or wormery. If you choose this route, start with boiling water and add the checks.

You can stir a few times a day and add more boiling water to speed up the process. Once the paper is broken down into pulp, you can use it in your paper-making screens or add it to your compost pile or wormery.

Which Checks Should I Keep and Which Should I Destroy?

For personal, everyday expenses, once you have reconciled your checks with your bank statements, you can destroy them, especially if your bank keeps images of the checks. 

If you have checks that relate to your business or support filing your taxes, you should keep them for 3-7 years. 

Any checks that you received as a payment should be kept for 2 weeks after the deposit clears the bank, then they may be destroyed.

What Important Documents Should be Kept or Destroyed?

As you organize your family’s paperwork, you will realize just how much paper we go through maintaining our financial records. It is hard to know which documents to keep and for how long. Anytime you dispose of old documents, you should destroy them completely due to the possibility of someone taking your personal information.

You should keep bank statements on file for 3-7 years. The IRS can request an audit of a tax filing up to 6 years later, so keeping this information gathered together is beneficial. 

Credit card statements may be discarded after 60 days. Generally, you can dispute a charge for up to 60 days, so you don’t need them longer than that. However, if your credit card is for business or tax purposes, keep the statements for 3-7 years.

Any other tax documents like W-2 or 1099 forms should also be saved for 3-7 years.

There are a few documents that you should keep permanently. Keep tax filings, legal filings, and documents related to inheritance forever.

Related Questions

What is the best way to store important documents?

Which important documents should I keep and for how long?

How do I organize my personal documents?

How long are checks valid, and how do I cancel a check if someone doesn’t cash it?

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Concluding Thoughts

You don’t need to keep all of your old checkbooks forever. Maintain copies or records of any checks that relate to tax filings. Otherwise, take care to completely destroy checks and checkbooks so that your personal and banking information is less likely to be stolen. Burning old checks or cross-cut shredding are efficient ways to dispose of old checks.

Bulk shredding with an outside company is helpful if you have a large number of documents. You can also reduce the old checks to paper pulp that can’t be reconstructed by soaking them in water or other liquids. Regardless of the method you choose, be sure to protect your personal and financial information.

 

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