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RM Home > Tips and Training >

Using General Records Retention Schedules

General records retention schedules (also called general schedules) describe records that are commonly encountered by offices throughout the University. General schedules apply to all University offices and should be adopted immediately.

General Schedule Format

The standard format of general records retention schedules:

Record Series      Effective Date, Last Modified Date
Description of Record Series


Record Holder

Office Retention

Office Disposition

Official Copy
(Office of Record)




Unofficial Copies




Refer to the Glossary of Terms for definitions of terms used in records retention schedules.

Adopting General Schedules

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the University's general schedules. Remember that your office is responsible for adhering to any general schedules that relate to records created or received by your office. (Exception: If there is a conflict between a general schedule and an office-specific schedule for your office, the office-specific schedule takes precedence. For example, if you have an office-specific schedule for Strategic Plans, follow the office-specific schedule instead of the Strategic Plans general schedule. In all other cases, offices with Strategic Plans are expected to follow the general schedule.)

When you identify a general schedule that applies to your office's records, determine whether you have official copies, unofficial copies, or both. Official copies typically require longer retention than unofficial copies. Only one office holds the official copy of each unique record, while multiple offices could hold unofficial copies.

The general schedule for Accounts Payable Records, for example, covers "purchase orders, requisitions, journal vouchers, invoices, receipts, payment authorizations, checks, bills, and other related documentation" that are submitted to the Controller's Group. The Controller's Group maintains the official copies of these records. If you submit Accounts Payable Records to the Controller's Group but keep copies for yourself, you are keeping unofficial copies. The general schedule instructs you to destroy unofficial copies within 3 years.

Next, look at your files to identify records that have passed their retention period. Apply to those records the instructions listed under Office Disposition. In this example, any unofficial copies of Accounts Payable Records that are more than 3 years old will be destroyed. As they are unofficial copies, the office may choose to destroy them in less than 3 years. In other general schedules, the Office Disposition will instruct you to transfer records to the University Archives.

When a new year begins, start a new file and remove the oldest file for disposition.

Establish and maintain an annual records clean-out routine so that you never have records that have passed their retention period.

Helpful Hints

  • In general and office-specific records retention schedules, the Office Retention begins at the end of the current year (fiscal, calendar or academic year, depending on your office practices).
  • If you maintain your files by year according to the established Records Series, it will be easier to apply general schedules. Keep all your Accounts Payable Records in one area, all your Strategic Plans in another area, and so on. If you mingle different Record Series together, you will have to separate them later in order to properly apply the disposition instruction.
  • Some offices incorporate a "transfer preparation" file into their routine workflow.  For instance, you might start a box and / or an electronic folder to put copies of publications at the time of their creation, and then transfer that box / folder to the Archives at the end of the year. 
  • Remember that records retention schedules apply to records in any media or format. If you keep unofficial copies of Accounts Payable Records both on paper and in electronic format, destroy both the paper and the electronic records at the same time.
  • Some records retention schedules use the words "up to" in the Office Retention period. In those cases, you are permitted to apply the appropriate Office Disposition at any time within the Office Retention period. If you only need to refer back to your Accounts Payable Records for 1 year, you may destroy your unofficial copies after 1 year. (If the Office Retention uses "up to" and the Office Disposition is "Transfer to the Archives," the office may transfer the records to the Archives at any time within the maximum Office Retention period.) When the words "up to" are not present, you are expected to keep the records for the duration of the Office Retention period and then follow the instructions in the Office Disposition column.




This page was last updated January 4, 2013