As mentioned in an earlier post, I have begun making digital copies of all of my important personal documents. I’m doing this for a number of reasons. The first is for emergency preparedness. In the event of an emergency, such as fire or hurricane, I will at least have a record of everything for the worst case scenario. Even though a scan of a birth certificate or passport isn’t valid, a copy of the original usually makes it easier to obtain a replacement document. It also helps me stay organized. As I accumulate more documents that need to be stored and saved, paper copies are not practical, but digital files take up no physical space.
Here are some of the documents I would recommend scanning to PDF files:
•Social Security cards
•Insurance policies (auto, home, life, etc.)
•Health insurance cards
•Wills and trusts
•Tax returns (for the past three years)
•Bank account numbers
•Credit cards (including issuer’s contact information)
A flat-bed scanner can be used in conjunction with your computer, or a scanning app, such as Scanner Pro, can be used with your iPhone or iPad. If you’re using a scanner or scanning with your printer, make sure you set it to save as a PDF file and set the resolution at 300 dpi. Apps such as Scanner Pro will automatically save as PDF files. PDF files ( or Portable Document Format) can be viewed and read by any device used today, and this format will likely remain compatible in the future.
Once you have your documents scanned, you will need a way to read, organize and store your files. I have chosen to use the GoodReader app on my iPad. In GoodReader, I created various folders to organize my docs – Banking, Licenses/Certificates, Policies, Taxes, Medical,Receipts, etc, then moved my files to the appropriate folders.
It isn’t practical to store all of those documents on an iPad or iPhone, but you have several different options for keeping your copies safe – an external drive, USB flash drive, or various cloud services. There are pros and cons for each, as well as security concerns that I will address. The process I follow combines some of the above. I have begun using iCloud Drive as my primary means of initial back-up as it is a service I can manage on any of my iOS devices as well as my Mac computer.
First, I uploaded all my files to iCloud. It’s a seamless process with GoodReader, as there is a dedicated file for iCloud. Any files that you don’t want backed up should be placed in the Downloads folder. These files will be available on that device but won’t take up space in your cloud storage. Use this for anything that can be easily found and downloaded again. For example, I don’t back-up my camera manuals that I like to have available to read on my iPad, because it’s easy to go to the manufacturer website and download them again. Similarly, I choose to keep copies of certain files based on the particular device. I keep a copy of my driver’s license and passport in my iPhone GoodReader files, while the tax return copies are on my computer.
All of the important documents are stored on my iCloud Drive. Before I explain the “how”, let me explain the “why”. I want at least one of my back-up methods to be with a cloud service because those files can then be accessed from anywhere. If the digital files are only on my computer or external hard drives they would mostly likely also be destroyed with the originals should there be a disaster at my home. The obvious concern about cloud storage is security and access by hackers to your important information.
Although Apple came under fire in recent years because stolen photos of celebrities were apparently hacked from iCloud and published online, this was more about Apple ID passwords being comprised from successful phishing attacks elsewhere than iCloud itself being vulnerable.
Apple uses a minimum of 128-bit encryption to protect everything within iCloud, including, photos, messages and your documents. For iCloud keychain, used to store and transmit passwords and credit card date, 265-bit encryption is utilized. These encryption keys are created on your own devices and Apple can’t access them. Your data is actually very secure both on Apple’s servers and during transfer. To safeguard your information, it is most important to take precautions so that the data cannot be easily accessed from your iPhone, iPad or computers. This means minimally using a Passcode for all of your devices, including your computer, and using Touch ID when available. (For added security, use two-step authentication. This is probably the best way to ensure that your device is not easily hacked. I will not explain that now, but I will write a future post on this process, if there is interest.)
iCloud is a subscription service that offers 5GB free space to anyone with an Apple iD and iOS device. Paid options can be increased to 1TB for $19.99. I currently use the 200 GB plan for $3.99 a month after recently upgrading from 20 GB for $0.99 a month. For $48 annually this is more than enough for me to secure all of my important data as well as many of my favorite and frequently used photos. I can choose to downgrade or upgrade my plan at any time, and the amount is automatically deducted monthly from my chosen account.
Dropbox and Google Drive can share and store files in a similar manner, but I like the automatic integration that iCloud provides across all of my devices. (For comparison prices, Dropbox offers 2 GB storage free and $9.99 a month for I TB. Google drive offers 15 GB free, 100 GB for $1.99 a month and 1 TB for $9.99)
To access iCloud drive files from a computer, go to www.icloud.com and log in with your Apple ID and password. The first screen shows everything that is backed up with iCloud, including Photos, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and a separate folder called iCloud Drive. This is where your downloaded files reside. Click on iCloud Drive to access anything else you have saved here. My drive houses all of my PDF file in GoodReader, word docs created with Pages, spreadsheets created with Numbers, Keynote presentations and photo files.
Additional files can be dragged and dropped from my computer into the appropriate folders to upload them to the cloud to be stored. I can also select any files and download them for access directly on my computer.
To access my PDF files in iCloud Drive from my iPad or iPhone, I open GoodReader and tap iCloud. All of my Folders are immediately visible. I open the folder I need, tap on the pertinent document and it is downloaded to my device. It is then available for me to read, add notes, email or print. Any changes can then be uploaded back to iCloud.
My iCloud Drive now has all of my files stored securely, but it’s also good to have additional back-ups. If something should happen to me and family members needed to access my files, they might not readily have access to my latest Apple ID and password. I recommend copying all of the files also to a USB thumb drive/flash drive and storing in a bank safety deposit box and/or giving a thumb drive with the files to a family member. Thumb drives are small and can be easily lost, so for added protection, files can be encrypted before copying them. A number of free encryption tools are available. This requires remembering a password to open them. If you don’t feel confident with this process, you can consider purchasing a flash drive with hardware encryption built in. (Kanguru Defender is one of the options available that has both Mac and Windows support. There are a number of storage options, starting at $69.95 for 4 GB.)
Let me know if you have questions, and please share any additional thoughts you have on storing and digitizing your important documents.