The length of time you should keep a document depends on the action, expense, or event which the document records. Generally, you must keep your records that support an item of income, deduction or credit shown on your tax return until the period of limitations for that tax return runs out.
The period of limitations is the period of time in which you can amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund, or the IRS can assess additional tax. The information below reflects the periods of limitations that apply to income tax returns. Unless otherwise stated, the years refer to the period after the return was filed. Returns filed before the due date are treated as filed on the due date.
Note: Keep copies of your filed tax returns. They help in preparing future tax returns and making computations if you file an amended return.
The following questions should be applied to each record as you decide whether to keep a document or throw it away.
Generally, keep records relating to property until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the property. You must keep these records to figure any depreciation, amortization, or depletion deduction and to figure the gain or loss when you sell or otherwise dispose of the property.
If you received property in a nontaxable exchange, your basis in that property is the same as the basis of the property you gave up, increased by any money you paid. You must keep the records on the old property, as well as on the new property, until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the new property.
When your records are no longer needed for tax purposes, do not discard them until you check to see if you have to keep them longer for other purposes. For example, your insurance company or creditors may require you to keep them longer than the IRS does.
Everyone in business must keep records. Keeping good records is very important to your business. Good records will help you do the following:
You need good records to monitor the progress of your business. Records can show whether your business is improving, which items are selling, or what changes you need to make. Good records can increase the likelihood of business success.
You need good records to prepare accurate financial statements. These include income (profit and loss) statements and balance sheets. These statements can help you in dealing with your bank or creditors and help you manage your business.
You will receive money or property from many sources. Your records can identify the sources of your income. You need this information to separate business from nonbusiness receipts and taxable from nontaxable income.
Unless you record them when they occur, you may forget expenses when you prepare your tax return.
Your basis is the amount of your investment in property for tax purposes. You will use the basis to figure the gain or loss on the sale, exchange, or other disposition of property, as well as deductions for depreciation, amortization, depletion, and casualty losses.
You need good records to prepare your tax returns. These records must support the income, expenses, and credits you report. Generally, these are the same records you use to monitor your business and prepare your financial statement.
You must keep your business records available at all times for inspection by the IRS. If the IRS examines any of your tax returns, you may be asked to explain the items reported. A complete set of records will speed up the examination.
You may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. The business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes. Your recordkeeping system should include a summary of your business transactions. This summary is ordinarily made in your business books (for example, accounting journals and ledgers). Your books must show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. For most small businesses, the business checking account is the main source for entries in the business books.
Some businesses choose to use electronic accounting software programs or some other type of electronic system to capture and organize their records. The electronic accounting software program or electronic system you choose should meet the same basic recordkeeping principles mentioned above. All requirements that apply to hard copy books and records also apply to electronic records. For more detailed information refer to Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records.
Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business will generate supporting documents. Supporting documents include sales slips, paid bills, invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and canceled checks. These documents contain the information you need to record in your books. It is important to keep these documents because they support the entries in your books and on your tax return. You should keep them in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. For instance, organize them by year and type of income or expense.
The following are some of the types of records you should keep:
A good recordkeeping system includes a summary of your business transactions. Business transactions are ordinarily summarized in books called journals and ledgers. You can buy them at your local stationery or office supply store.
A journal is a book where you record each business transaction shown on your supporting documents. You may have to keep separate journals for transactions that occur frequently.
A ledger is a book that contains the totals from all of your journals. It is organized into different accounts.
Electronic Records: All requirements that apply to hard copy books and records also apply to business records which are maintained using electronic accounting software, point of sale software, financial software or any other electronic records system. The electronic system must provide a complete and accurate record of your data that is accessible to the IRS.
Whether you keep paper or electronic journals and ledgers and how you keep them depends on the type of business you are in. For example, a recordkeeping system for a small business might include the following items:
Note: The system you use to record business transactions will be more effective if you follow good recordkeeping practices. For example, record expenses when they occur, and identify the sources of income. Generally, it is best to record transactions on a daily basis. For additional information on how to record your business transactions, refer to Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records.
The responsibility to prove entries, deductions, and statements made on your tax returns is known as the burden of proof. You must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses to deduct them. Generally, taxpayers meet their burden of proof by having the information and receipts (where needed) for the expenses. You should keep adequate records to prove your expenses or have sufficient evidence that will support your own statement. You generally must have documentary evidence, such as receipts, canceled checks, or bills, to support your expenses. Additional evidence is required for travel, entertainment, gifts, and auto expenses.
Keep all records of employment taxes for at least four years after filing the 4th quarter for the year. These should be available for IRS review. Records should include: