7 Steps to Convert Paper Files to Digital

Kiplinger, By Lisa Gerstner

April 2, 2014

If you have a smart phone, scanner and computer, you have all the tools you need to banish paper clutter from your life. We’ve rounded up ways to digitize records and receipts, as well as cut back on paper bills and financial statements. The payoff: You can more easily organize your files, photos and miscellaneous pieces of paper, and you’ll be able to access them with the click of a mouse or tap of an app. Plus, you are likely to save money on paper and printer ink.


Get a handle on paper receipts with tools that save and categorize them. With the free Lemon app (available for Android phones, the iPhone and iPad, and Windows Phone), you just snap a photo of a receipt and add a label—for example, “Personal” or “Business”. Lemon arranges receipts based on your labels as well as the type of spending the receipt reflects (such as “Food and Dining”), and you can view a breakdown of the information on the app at Lemon.com. If you don’t have a smart phone, you can e-mail receipts to your account or enter information from receipts manually.

Shoeboxed, which manages receipts as well as business cards, caters to small businesses but can be helpful for personal finances, too. The online tool has applications for Android devices and the iPhone and iPad (you can e-mail photos to Shoeboxed from any phone with a camera and e-mail capability). Plus, it integrates with several outside accounts, such as Evernote and Google, so that you can export data into them. Send five documents per month to Shoeboxed to have a human verify, at no charge, that the data pulled from the images of the documents is accurate (receipts submitted through the phone app go through verification).

Just looking to clear your desk of business cards? Get the free CamCard Lite app. Take a photo of a card and the app stores an image of the card and transfers the information to an address book (you can manually edit the info if the reader translates it incorrectly). You can also export contact information to other accounts, such as Google and Facebook.


Forgoing paper statements and receiving and paying bills online are essential steps to going paperless. Many big banks offer online bill-paying services to help you track statements and pay bills on time. You can typically set up automatic payments from your bank account for recurring bills, such as utilities and credit cards.


Ditching paper documents and archiving records electronically may leave you feeling uneasy about the legal validity of your records. But for files that you may need for tax purposes, you can rest easy: Digital copies are acceptable to the IRS. Use a scanner to convert paper documents, such as letters from charities and mortgage records, to digital files. To reduce paper in general, scan any other files you’re comfortable keeping in digital form.

Creating PDFs of documents and Web pages allows you to store them on your computer and open them easily. You may be able to make PDFs using the “Print” menu as you work within a document or Web browser. Tools such as PrimoPDF (available for Windows) let you create PDFs from many applications.

Some smart-phone applications specialize in scanning and creating PDFs of documents that you photograph using the phone’s camera. For the best results, you’ll need good lighting and a steady hand.


Other tools can fine-tune certain aspects of putting your digital life in order. For example, instead of jotting to-do lists on scraps of paper, try apps which allow you to create them online. Many ‘to-do’ list apps are free, or will have a free trial version.


Most Web browsers let you bookmark pages. But to access them from multiple devices, you’ll want to use a Web tool such as Instapaper, Delicious or Pinboard.


You can save, organize and search through your digital stuff with tools like Evernote or Onenote.


Along with saving documents to your computer, it’s smart to back up files on an external hard drive or flash drive, as well as in secure online databases—that way, you can gain access to your files anywhere you have an Internet connection. Many sites limit the amount of storage you can use free, but you can spread your files among several programs or pay for additional space if you need it.

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The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.