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PSA: Scan Your Important Documents

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On a recent trip to Las Vegas, one of my friends lost their wallet. Normally, a lost wallet is just an inconvenience. You make a few phone calls to cancel your credit and ATM cards, you mentally prepare yourself for a trip to the DMV to get a new driver’s license, and you curse your particular mix of misfortune and carelessness. When you lose your wallet while you’re on vacation, you add the additional headache of having to prove who you are so you can get back on a plane home! Fortunately this happens often enough that he was able to travel without physical identification (he told me they asked questions he was surprised they knew the answers to) but this underscores the importance of scanning your most important documents. If my friend had a copy of his license handy, it might have made the airport ordeal a little easier (no guarantee in our post 9/11 TSA era).

Now, if you haven’t made your way towards a more paperless financial life, now’s a good time to give it a try. I purchased a scanner a few years ago and have slowly moved many of our documents over to electronic copies. We have made scans of our passports and licenses several years ago before a particularly long trip (with frequent opportunities to lose our stuff!), so we were covered there. When it comes to deciding what documents to keep and what to shred, I find that scanning anything I’m unsure about is a good backup. The last thing you want to do is to shred something you wished you kept! That guide, despite being over a year old, is still accurate in terms of what to keep and what to shred.

When you go to store the documents, find someplace safe and secure and accessible should you need to reach them in a pinch (such as when you’re in another country).

Protip: When traveling, print out a copy of any important documents (such as your license and your passport) and keep them with your luggage. This way you won’t need to find a computer and a printer to print out a copy in the unfortunate event you do lose both.

Finally, while you’re at it, trim your wallet of all the extra stuff you really don’t need. I recently went to a money clip to “force” myself to leave stuff at home. I now carry an ATM card, the two credit cards I use, and a driver’s license. It’s far less than the multitude of “stuff” I carried earlier and I hardly miss it.

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6 Responses to “PSA: Scan Your Important Documents”

  1. Rob Carlson says:

    My wallet is almost the same, except I also carry proof of health insurance in case I need urgent (non-emergency) health care away from home.

    • Jim says:

      Excellent point, I also have my health insurance card (and a few other small items like a photo) that I forgot.

    • Shirley says:

      I have printed all meds being taken (name, dosage, prescribing Dr) on a 4×6 card to be folded and carried in a wallet. You never know when this info might be a lifesaver.

  2. Strebkr says:

    I have a hot date with the scanner in my office January of every year!

  3. skylog says:

    thanks for this post. i have needed to re-do this for some time and it is just one of those things i keep putting off. need to some backups on the computer as well. thanks for the push!

  4. Strebkr says:

    What do you guys do with your scanned documents once you have them?

    For example, when I travel internationally, I keep a scan of my passport and credit cards in my email so I can access them anywhere.

    If you have your email set up right and a good password it isn’t much of an issue. The risk doesn’t outweigh the need for your passport at a critical time.


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