How to Digitize Important Personal Documents

We all have documents we need to keep in a safe place– birth certificates, social security cards, driver’s licenses, health insurance cards, passports, etc. Did you ever wonder what would happen if you ever lost these documents in a fire, flood or other natural disaster?

Some of these documents are impossible or at the very minimum, a real hassle, to replace. So, it’s very necessary for all of us to be prepared in order to minimize, and hopefully avoid, the stressful situations that come with losing important paperwork.

The way to avoid the problems associated with losing important paperwork is to digitize these important documents. It is relatively easy to do so and this can be accomplished over a weekend. Below are details on how to digitize, organize and store your important personal documents:

1. Purchase a good quality scanner.

In order to digitize your documents, you will need a scanner. If you don’t already have one, there are many affordable ones available. You could also use a scanner application on your smart phone to achieve similar results.

2.  Scan and save your files.

Scan each document and save as a .PDF file. Here is a list of some of the important documents you
may want to scan and keep digitally:

TIP: Scan all the contents of your wallet and save as a separate folder titled “Wallet.” By scanning everything inside your whole wallet, you’ll know immediately what you had in it if it’s ever lost or stolen. Your credit card numbers as well as the phone numbers for the credit card companies will be readily available to you, so you can quickly call and cancel them.

3. Name your digital documents.

When you scan each file, save under descriptive titles (e.g. Social_security_card.pdf). This makes it much easier for you to know what is inside each file and makes it easy find the document on your computer if you need to search for it.

4. Organize the documents.

Once you save each individual file under the correct title, file each one into a digital folder on your hard drive so it’s easy to locate them when you want to find them. You can further categorize under these folders when necessary. For example, take a look at the image below. Under taxes, there are multiple folders based on each year that have the relevant tax documents from that year.

Create a master folder called “Scanned Documents,” and within this you can create separate folders such as “Medical Records” or “Taxes.” You can file the other documents under just the main folder or create a folder called MISC. This is just to help you get started; over time you will find what organization scheme works best for your documents. Below is a sample of how we have organized our documents.

Create a new master folder – you can title as you see fit or call it “scanned documents” or  “important documents.”

Underneath this main folder, create subfolders based on which documents you have. For example, in the image above, you can see we have folders titled “college records,” “taxes” and “medical records.”

The remainder of documents that don’t fit together can just be stored in the main folder like we have above or can be filed in a MISC folder.

5.  Back up your files.

Next you want to create backup digital copies that can be stored outside your home for safekeeping.  Upload each file to an external hard drive or a thumb drive and then place the drive into a safe deposit box. Your safe deposit box should be a fire-safe, waterproof security vessel. You can find these at most department stores or online. Alternatively, you can store these in a bank safety deposit box with your other valuables if you have one already. Another option is to keep a backup of these documents in a password-protected online backup system, where all your uploaded files can be stored securely and retrieved at any time.

You may consider keeping another USB drive at either a good friend’s or a family member’s home for easy accessibility.  Keeping a copy away from your home is important in case you have a fire, theft or another unforseen issue.  Also this allows your family/friends access to this on your behalf in case of an emergency.

Other factors to consider:

    • Password-protect the documents on your computer for added security.  There are several options for this; you can password protect your entire computer, you can encrypt and password protect the entire folder, or you can password protect each individual file.
    • Back up your computer to an external hard drive. If you use a Mac, you can use Time Machine to back up your computer every week or so. In the event of a computer crash, you’ll be able to retrieve everything you need to put back on your hard drive.

At first, this may seem like a bit of work. But it is relatively easy to do once you get everything together and get started. This is a very important task because we live in a world where this information and documentation is very essential to our lives. Once you scan these documents, you will have access to these files when you need them and in cases of emergency. It takes work the first time you scan and organize everything, but when you’re done, the documents will be preserved and it will be very simple to add documents as needed.

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