PRODUCTS How to pick a shredder that will make the cut

The price ranges from $20 to $200.
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 like Office Depot and Staples started cropping up -- and suddenly, paper shredders were available to individual consumers. These early personal shredders weren't exactly affordable, but by the mid-'90s, prices plummeted into the "affordable" range. At about the same time, identity theft exploded, and sales of personal shredders went up -- way, way up.
Today, 8 million to 10 million new shredders are sold each year, and people are looking for machines with more and better features. And today you're likely to find a shredder on the shelves of your grocery store.
Scandals such as the Enron bust boost shredder sales, says Mueller, even though they put shredding in a bad light. "It brings shredding into the public eye," Mueller said. Mueller and Jon Lavoie, an office equipment specialist at Staples in Fort Worth, Texas, gave us the lowdown. Here's what we learned in Shredding 101.
Cost, cut
Generally, you can spend as little as $20 or as much as $200 for a shredder, depending on your needs. The casual shredder (which is you, if you simply want to shred some old bills and receipts) can get by with a shredder that costs less than $50.
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 crosscut 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, probably not. Mueller says the strip cut will probably suffice.
"When you or I throw our garbage away at home, we have our orange peels and our coffee grounds in there with it," she said. "To piece that together, [identity thieves] are really going to have to work for it."
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.

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