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Beginners Guide to Setting a Records Retention Schedule

Retention Schedule

2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day at a record pace. And as regulations and unrestrained volumes of information ramp up simultaneously, the more a records retention schedule becomes a must-have for businesses nowadays.

However, many businesses still hold onto documents that outlive their purpose. Having a “save all” document retention policy exposes an organization to unnecessary risk and non-compliance with privacy laws.

The Value of a Records Retention Schedule

A records retention schedule is a systematic plan establishing how long information must be kept for legal and operational requirements and the guidelines for how to dispose of it. Companies implement records retention schedules to maintain regulatory compliance, as well as to ensure disposal methods are legally defensible. In essence, a retention schedule is the foundation of a solid records information management (RIM) program that governs records throughout their lifecycle.

Through the successful roll-out of a records retention schedule, companies can take advantage of the following benefits:

  • Control the exponential growth of records
  • Comply with regulatory and statutory requirements
  • Locate and retrieve documents quickly and efficiently
  • Minimize litigation risks

To help you implement an effective records retention schedule for your business here are some guidelines:

How to Implement a Records Retention Schedule

1. Set up a Universal Retention Schedule

An organization should plan a universal retention schedule for all its departments. The retention schedule should be structured around a classification scheme to group similar records into broader categories, establishing consistency and conformity. Record classes can include records, non-records, vital records, and archival records.

By organizing your business’ information into categories, you can determine records of higher importance and identify retention periods necessary for compliance. Record categorization also makes it easy to locate, access, and dispose of documents that have reached the end of their life cycle.

2. Determine Document Retention Periods

The retention period within the schedule is the duration of time to keep information assets. How long you maintain your records will depend on your business, industry, record type, and compliance requirements associated with the data.

Because each department within an organization creates and manages different types of information formats, including paper and electronic, your retention period will also take into account your internal information governance and records management policies. Before setting your retention periods, consult with your attorney or tax professional to review your company’s circumstances so they can properly guide you on record keeping and federal and state retention requirements.

3. Implement a Disposition Schedule

Once you’ve decided on the retention period for each type of document, you’ll want to ensure they’re discarded irrevocably with a disposition schedule. To avoid identity theft and protect sensitive business information, be sure to dispose of or shred business records securely. For the highest level of security, opt to use onsite shredding services with a Certificate of Destruction to detail the date and disposal methods used for your documents.

Additionally, look for an outsourced provider that offers a records management system to calculate retention dates for you automatically. A records management system calculates destruction dates based on entered data such as record classification codes, retention schedules, and record creation dates.

4. Review and Update Periodically

With the progression of regulations and legal requirements, it’s a good idea to review retention schedules and policies periodically. Each time a review occurs, be sure to consider any statutory changes that impact retention periods.

As your business processes and policies evolve, you may also want to reevaluate the usage of different record categories and the length of time they’ve saved. By adjusting your retention period to accommodate your current record groups, you can reduce storage costs, retain only relevant business information, and discard of obsolete documents.

For a cost-effective approach to long-term preservation and accessibility to records, your company may also want to consider a digital storage solution. By utilizing a combination of records storage and scan-on-demand services, you can save space and safely store documents offsite with digital access to them when you need it.

5. Time to Rollout

When it comes time to implement your retention schedule, it’s important to remember it’s not only a one-time rollout. A retention schedule should be instilled within your company’s infrastructure and align with your records management program.

Comprehensive training and ongoing education to all employees ensure they’re aware of retention policies, procedures, and their role in information security. By equipping staff with the resources and technology to implement records retention, your client, employee, and business information will be kept secure and manageable for years to come.

Ready start your records retention schedule?

Whether you’re looking to start or refresh your records retention schedule, we’re here to help. At Vital Records Control, we provide a network of high-quality information governance solutions to help you better manage information, reduce risk, and comply confidently. From offsite storage, imaging, to document shredding services, our records management services can be combined to form a customized solution that’s right for your business.

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