How Long Should I Keep Tax Returns and Documents?

Safekeeping tax records helps for future filing, amended returns, audits

With the tax filing season quickly approaching, taxpayers should understand how long to keep tax returns and other documents.

The Internal Revenue Service generally recommends keeping copies of tax returns and supporting documents at least three years. Employment tax records should be kept at least four years after the date that the tax becomes due or paid, whichever is later. Tax records should be kept at least seven years if a return claims a loss from worthless securities or a bad debt deduction. Copies of previously-filed tax returns are helpful in preparing current-year tax returns and making computations if a return needs to be amended.

Are the records connected to property?

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.

Period of Limitations that apply to income tax returns

  1. Keep records for 3 years if situations (4), (5), and (6) below do not apply to you.
  2. Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return.
  3. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.
  4. Keep records for 6 years if you do not report income that you should report, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return.
  5. Keep records indefinitely if you do not file a return.
  6. Keep records indefinitely if you file a fraudulent return.
  7. Keep employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date that the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Safe-keeping records

Tax records should be kept safe and secure regardless of whether they are stored on paper or kept electronically. Paper records should be kept in a secure location, preferably under lock and key, such as a secure desk drawer or a safe. Records retained electronically should be backed up electronically and encrypted when possible. The IRS also suggests scanning paper tax and financial records into a format that can be encrypted and stored securely on a flash drive, CD or DVD with photos or videos of valuables.

Disposing of records

Tax records contain sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, income amounts and bank account information. Tax documents not properly disposed of can land in the hands of criminals and lead to identity theft. Once past their useful date, records should be disposed of properly. Paper tax returns and supporting documents should be shredded before being discarded. Old computers, back-up drives and media contain sensitive data. Deleting stored tax files will not completely erase them. Using special wiping software ensures the removal of sensitive data.

Taxpayers still keeping old tax returns and receipts stuffed in a shoebox may want to rethink their approach. When records are no longer needed the data should be properly destroyed. More information is available on IRS.gov at How long should I keep records?

Do you Have a Federal Tax Problem You Need Help With?

The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic can consult with you to provide advice regarding your IRS tax problem, and/or potentially act on your behalf for FREE if you qualify for assistance (come to a clinic intake session)!

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Jim Floyd is the Staff Enrolled Agent at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. As an Enrolled Agent, Jim is a federally-licensed tax practitioner with unlimited rights to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. This means he is unrestricted as to which taxpayers he can represent, what types of tax matters he can handle, and which IRS offices he can represent clients before. Enrolled agent status is the highest credential the IRS awards.

Jim is also a member of The American Society of Tax Problem Solvers (ASTPS), a non-profit professional association of practitioners that specialize in representing taxpayers before the IRS and other taxing authorities. Membership in ASTPS reflects commitment to excellence and high standards in taxpayer representation

 

Source: Internal Revenue Service