Which expanding file folders are best?

Although we live in a digital world, there’s still a need for physical copies of specific papers, from homework dittos to contracts. Expanding file folders are ideal for storing many of these documents while still offering quick access to them.

Besides organizing critical paperwork, expanding file organizers may help declutter desks and offices. They’re popular alternatives to binders and other folder systems, as well. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty expanding organizer, Smead A-Z and Subject Expanding File Box is a top choice that holds up to 1,400 sheets. 

What to know before you buy an expanding file folder

Why you need an expanding file folder

Many professionals use expanding file folders to store specific groups of documents, like contracts. Individuals often use expanding file folders to organize bills, insurance paperwork or device manuals. Kids may prefer smaller expanding organizers over binders or large groups of folders because they fit more easily inside backpacks.

Paper sizes

Before deciding on an expanding file folder, make sure it accommodates the correct paper size. Most organizers fit letter-size papers that measure 8.5 by 11 inches, and only some of them fit legal sheets that are 8.5 by 14 inches. If you’re not sure whether you’ll only need letter-size expanding files, err on the side of caution and opt for legal-size organizers, so you don’t need to upgrade later on. 

What to look for in a quality expanding file folder


Many expanding file folders are heavy cardstock, manila or cardboard. They’re durable and rip-resistant, including quality designs that have reinforced gussets. However, because these materials are absorbent, these organizers and their documents are susceptible to water damage. 

Newer expanding file folders use plastic, a lightweight and durable option that repels water. Several plastic organizers are less expensive than their cardstock equivalents, making them an economical option. Some expanding plastic files, unfortunately, are poorly made and rip easily.


Expanding file folders have tabs for easy document identification through labeling. Certain organizers, namely those geared towards business use, have pre-printed labels that may include A-Z, months or numbers. Some expanding file folders let users write directly on the tabs, whereas others have tabs with removable paper strips for customizable labels. 

Closure style

There are a few closure styles you’ll see on expanding file folders. Some organizers have little nobs and elastic bands that fit them, whereas others have metal or plastic twist closures. Several plastic organizers have zipper closures that span three sides. There are a few expanding file folders that have Velcro closures. 

Fireproof document organizers

Fireproof document organizers are a unique subset of expanding file folders. They have virtually the same design. Only they’re constructed with fireproof materials that may withstand temperatures up to 1,800 degrees. Many of these organizers are water-resistant to protect documents from moderate moisture exposure. 

How much you can expect to spend on expanding file folders

Expanding file folders start at around $8 for basic manila or plastic designs with limited pockets. Organizers that store up to 1,000 pages cost closer to $14-$20. The most expensive options, priced at $22-$40, include heavy-duty expanding file folders geared toward business use. 

Expanding file folder FAQ

What other sizes are available for expanding file folders?

A. Besides expanding file organizers for letter- and legal-size sheets, there are several compact designs. Their dimensions are around 10 by 5 inches, and they’re frequently used to organize coupons, checks or folded bills. Like other expanding organizers, they usually have tabs with customizable labels. 

How long do expanding file folders last?

A. It depends on wear and tear, and many people simply use them until they literally fall apart. On average, you can expect to get a solid five or more years out of expanding file folders made of heavy cardstock or plastic, whereas it’s closer to two or three years for lightweight manila organizers. 

What’s the best expanding file folder to buy?

Top expanding file folder

Smead A-Z and Subject Expanding File Box

Smead A-Z and Subject Expanding File Box

What you need to know: This heavy-duty expanding file box accommodates both letter and legal documents, making it popular for business use. 

What you’ll love: The file box has a reinforced handle that withstands heavy wear and tears. It’s made with durable cardstock and cardboard. Each pocket expands up to .875 inches to accommodate thick packets, legal pads or notebooks. 

What you should consider: Because it’s made with cardboard and paper, it’s not weather-resistant. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top expanding file folder for the money

Five Star Expanding File

Five Star Expanding File

What you need to know: A durable option, this Five Star expanding file has plastic construction and a zipper to secure and protect documents.

What you’ll love: The expanding file has six customizable pull tabs and seven flexible pockets. It has a clear view cover to hold important documents or flyers. Because it has reinforced gussets, the folders are less likely to tear. It has a compact design that is backpack-friendly. 

What you should consider: It’s one of the smaller expanding files available, so it may not accommodate larger document storage needs. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Vicnova Expanding File Accordion Organizer

Vicnova Expanding File Accordion Organizer

What you need to know: This upgraded accordion organizer has a few design upgrades to be more practical for users. 

What you’ll love: The accordion, which expands to 10 inches, is made with rip-resistant plastic and has a flexible spine. It includes 24 pockets that hold A4 paper. The organizer also has colorful folders, making it easier to identify the folder or documents you need. 

What you should consider: It doesn’t have a handle, and a few people felt the pockets could be a little deeper. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Alex Kilpatrick writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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