Thanks to the Andersen accounting firm, shredders have gotten a bad rap lately. But for your own protection, shredding old financial records is the only way to go.
Shredders have been around since the late 19th century, when an Austrian artillery officer developed a foot-powered shredder to protect his ballistics drawings. Electric shredders were invented in the 1930s, but for decades, their price and bulk made them accessible only to corporations and government agencies.
In the mid-1980s, says Carolyn Mueller, a senior product manager for GBC Office Products Group, office products superstores started cropping up and suddenly, paper shredders were available to individual consumers.
Mueller and Jon Lavoie, an office equipment specialist at Staples in Fort Worth, Tex., gave us the lowdown. Here's what we learned in Shredding 101:
Cost: Generally, you can spend as little as $20 or as much as $200 for a shredder, depending on your needs. The casual shredder can get by with a shredder that costs less than $50.
Cut: Some shredders do a "strip cut" the paper comes out in long strips, about a quarter-inch wide. Other shredders go one step further with a "cross cut" one blade cuts the paper into strips, then another blade cuts across the strips.
A cross-cut shredder gives you smaller, confettilike pieces usually 300 bits per sheet of paper, but sometimes as many as 1,500. The smaller the pieces, the more secure your documents. Do you need a crosscut shredder for your personal home shredding? Nah. Mueller says the strip cut will probably suffice.
Another thing to consider: Crosscut shredders tend to cost a bit more.
"There are some in the cheaper price range, but a crosscut is going to be more expensive than the comparable strip-cut," Lavoie said.
Capacity: "Your biggest difference in shredders is the number of pages you can feed through at one time," Lavoie said.
The smaller ones will accept only three to five pages at a time, which gets tedious if you have many items to shred. Others will shred seven, 10, even 15 sheets at once.
"Some people do their shredding every day, and some people let it build up until the end of the month and do it all at once," Lavoie said. If you're an end-of-the-monther, "you'll need something a little bit more heavy-duty."