There was a discussion over at the GRS forums that made me want to write this. What do you do with all of those bank and credit card statements that come to your house? Throwing them in the trash is asking for trouble. Identity thieves could steal your information and then you’ve got a whole new set of problems to deal with.
I recommend buying your own paper shredder. But is a shredder really worth it?
The likelihood of someone stealing your garbage that just happens to contain a piece of paper with your social security or account number on it is slim. Still, identify theft does happen and it is a major pain to get cleared up. How would you like to not only have to completely start over with your financial life, but when you start you are further back in the race than you were when you started originally? It must be very frustrating. Varying reports have said it can take more than 60 hours to recover from identity theft. Thankfully (knock on wood), I have never experienced it.
A lot of personal finance is changing habits. Buying a shredder is just another way to change your behavior ever so slightly for a positive result. You want to completely destroy anything with your social security number, account number, or other sensitive information (brokerage statements, what’s left of your checkbook after the last check, etc.). I even shred the return portion of credit card offers. Every day we go through the mail and sort it into various piles. There’s an action pile, a throw away pile, and a shred pile. A very simple system. It takes maybe an additional minute to shred the extra documents rather than just throwing them away. I feel the effort and cost are definitely worth it.
Types of Shredding
There are several different types of shredders. Money magazine did a test a while back for home use (the website says the article is from 2005 and I have to think there was another best since then, but I can’t find it). What we use is a 8 sheet cross-cut shredder. A cross-cut does exactly what you might think it does — it shreds sheets in both diagonal directions. This results in small diamond shaped confetti. I guess if someone was really determined they might be able to piece all of the small pieces back together, but this works for us.
In the discussion at the GetRichSlowly forums (linked above), someone mentioned there are different levels of shredding quality. I found a website, ABC Office, that discusses the various types of security.
Our shredder cost $50 at Office Depot. You should be able to find one for a similar price point, maybe even less. If you use FatWallet, you could probably earn some cash back. It is a bit of an investment, but it gives us peace of mind.