A sticky situation can get even worse when you're short on the necessary paperwork to get you unstuck. And then you create more chaos as you try to track down old receipts or records, combing through piles of paper and endless emails. Did you throw it away? You wouldn't have thrown away something that important, would you? Did you decide that last year's apartment lease just wasn't sparking enough joy?
Don't let worries get ahead of you. Keeping records is daunting and many consider it to be a chore, but it's definitely a critical habit. That's why you should create CYA files — "cover your ass" files — in case of those emergencies and times where your paperwork should be a thumb turn or swipe away.
Critical CYA File Contents
These are the critical documents that should make up a "starter kit" for your CYA files, although you should feel free to tailor your files to the things you think you'll need. The whole point of CYA files is to figuratively cover your ass: To keep important papers close at hand, and also to maintain a paper trail to protect you against unwarranted claims or deceitful deadlings. You'll know best what needs to be in there, but here is where to start:
Apartment Lease Agreement and Receipts
Your apartment lease agreement outlines the responsibilities you and your landlord are each required to fulfill. You never know when you'll need this, but situations may arise where you need to double-check when rent is late or what your rights are when there's a disagreement with the landlord. Perhaps the landlord is trying to get you to fix something that's listed in the lease agreement as their responsibility to repair. Your lease lists your rights as a tenant, especially when it comes to scary situations like possible eviction. Keep copies of receipts of payments (like your pet fee, for example) with your lease for quick access, too. It's easier to find the information when it's filed under the same topic.
Insurance is the ultimate CYA move, so keep your insurance information in a safe place in case an emergency arises. You'll need to know your policy information and details about what and how much your insurance covers. This might include car insurance and renter's insurance policy documents, which you can store with the apartment lease, for example.
Bill Payments and Debt Tracking
Keep track of what's owed and paid in terms of utilities and existing debt such as loans, hospital bills and items in collection, just in case your balances ever come into question. Organize the paperwork by topic and keep the information up-to-date as soon as you pay a bill. Budget tracking and receipt tracking apps will let you scan a copy of a receipt or automatically store screenshots of your payments for easier tracking. And don't dismiss the power of a trusty spreadsheet with areas to log what's paid and owed, with confirmation numbers for payments. You can also opt to create labels for specific topics in your email — they can especially useful when you opt to receive paperless billing and receipt confirmations.
Keep track of your employment records in case proof of income is needed or you're injured on the job. (And especially if you're a contractor and ever need to prove the scope of your work or payment with a client.) When hired, keep a copy of everything you sign, including a copy of your contract, expenses, benefits, labor union information, health insurance and workers' compensation information.
Vital Records and Identification Documents
Since they're truly vital, your identification documents need to be easily accessible. Times two, actually: If you want to be really prepared for anything, have a few pre-printed copies of these documents on hand. When ridiculous situations arise, you'll be doubly prepared (and won't have to rush to a copy store in the middle of an emergency). Examples of important identification documents to keep copies of are birth certificates, social security cards, driver's licenses, health and dental insurance ID cards, immunization records and tax documents.
Everyone needs a CYA file — it can be just as important as a rainy-day fund. Keep your butt covered so no one will scam you and you'll get your due when it comes to getting paid and getting covered by your insurance. When emergencies arise, your CYA file is a swipe away to save the day!