While you might have chosen to receive bank and credit card statements online and shareholder notifications from your broker via email, your paper piles keep getting bigger with other documents—health insurance statements, ATM receipts, pay stubs, and more.

Holding on to paper—even if you neatly file it away—isn't the most efficient way to store your documents. Besides the space it can take up, sifting through files to get all the information you need for, say, a tax preparer or a financial planner, can take time. If you become ill, finding your medical power of attorney and insurance papers could be difficult for your loved ones.

So what can you do? One way to conquer the paper piles is to digitize your document using a mobile scanner app and your smartphone

More than a dozen scanner apps are now available for iOS and Android phones, and they are growing in popularity. Most are free and easy to use.

Even better, using an app can mean that you don't have to buy a pricey desktop scanner. Plus, a scanner app lets you scan while you're on the go, says Barbara Fuller, the owner of digital organization company Simplify Days. That's the trick to taming the paper piles.

While many of the scanner apps are similar, there are a few differences to keep in mind before you download one. Some use optical character recognition (OCR), which converts the scanned item into text, a helpful tool if you want to be able to search through documents for specific terms. Others make it easy to add pages to an existing file, which can be handy if you’ve forgotten the last page of a bank statement, for instance.  

After converting an image into a PDF with the scanner app, some apps connect with Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or other cloud-based storage programs where you can store your files. Or you can email the files to yourself and save them on your computer. 

While you can scan every document that comes in, you'll need to keep physical copies of some of them, such as loan agreements or birth certificates, says Bruno Virlet, the co-creator of the Genius Scan app. You can digitize other pieces of paper, such as receipts and children’s school records, and toss the hard copies.

Once a document is scanned, save it with a name that includes the date, which will make it easier to find. Tag the files so they are easier to search for, with terms such as “receipts” or “taxes.”

When choosing among the many scanner apps, look for free apps that include edge detection and cropping, OCR and cloud-based exporting. 

Scanner Apps for Tackling Paper Piles

Genius ScanThe Genius Scan scanner app is free, although a version with more features sells for $6.99. The biggest difference is that the paid app allows you to export your scans to several cloud-based storage systems, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote. The free app allows you to send scanned documents via email. Genius Scan is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Scanbot

There is a free version and a few premium versions of this scanner app ($2 to $8). Like the Scannable and Genius Scan scanner apps, Scanbot automatically detects the edges of a document and crops it. The free version allows you to upload files to cloud-based programs. The premium levels include services such as highlighting text or signing PDFs on your phone. Scanbot is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Scannable

This free scanner app from Evernote automatically detects the edges of a document, cropping the image to the right size. The PDF can be sent directly to Evernote if you want to open an Evernote account, or you can email or text it to yourself. A nice feature: The app imports the information from scanned business cards into your phone's contact list. Scannable is only available for iOS devices.