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The Easy Way to Keep Good Business Records


There are many reasons to keep records. In addition to tax purposes, you may need to keep records for insurance purposes or for getting a loan. Good records will help you:

  • Identify sources of income. You may receive money or property from a variety of sources. Your records can identify the sources of your income. You need this information to separate business from non-business income and taxable from nontaxable income.

  • Keep track of expenses. You may forget an expense unless you record it when it occurs. You can use your records to identify expenses for which you can claim a deduction. This will help you determine if you can itemize deductions on your tax return.

  • Keep track of the basis of property. You need to keep records that show the basis of your property. This includes the original cost or other basis of the property and any improvements you made.

  • Prepare tax returns. You need records to prepare your tax return. Good records help you to file quickly and accurately.

  • Support items reported on tax returns. You must keep records in case the IRS has a question about an item on your return. If the IRS examines your tax return, you may be asked to explain the items reported. Good records will help you explain any item and arrive at the correct tax with a minimum of effort. If you do not have records, you may have to spend time getting statements and receipts from various sources. If you cannot produce the correct documents, you may have to pay additional tax and be subject to penalties.

Kinds of Records To Keep

The IRS does not require you to keep your records in a particular way. Keep them in a manner that allows you and the IRS to determine your correct tax.

You can use your checkbook to keep a record of your income and expenses. In your checkbook you should record amounts, sources of deposits, and types of expenses. You also need to keep documents, such as receipts and sales slips, that can help prove a deduction.

You should keep your records in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. Keep them by year and type of income or expense. One method is to keep all records related to a particular item in a designated envelope.

In this section you will find guidance about basic records that everyone should keep. The section also provides guidance about specific records you should keep for certain items.

Computerized records

Many retail stores sell computer software packages that you can use for recordkeeping. These packages are relatively easy to use and require little knowledge of bookkeeping and accounting.

If you use a computerized system, you must be able to produce legible records of the information needed to determine your correct tax liability. In addition to your computerized records, you must keep proof of payment, receipts, and other documents to prove the amounts shown on your tax return.

Storing tax records: How long is long enough?

April 15 has come and gone and another year of tax forms and shoeboxes full of receipts is behind us. But what should be done with those documents after your check or refund request is in the mail?

Federal law requires you to maintain copies of your tax returns and supporting documents for three years. This is called the "three-year law" and leads many people to believe they're safe provided they retain their documents for this period of time.

However, if the IRS believes you have significantly under reported your income (by 25 percent or more), or believes there may be indication of fraud, it may go back six years in an audit. To be safe, use the following guidelines.

Business Documents To Keep For One Year

  • Correspondence with Customers and Vendors

  • Duplicate Deposit Slips

  • Purchase Orders (other than Purchasing Department copy)

  • Receiving Sheets

  • Requisitions

  • Stenographer's Notebooks

  • Stockroom Withdrawal Forms

Business Documents To Keep For Three Years

  • Bank Statements and Reconciliation's

  • Employee Personnel Records (after termination)

  • Employment Applications

  • Expired Insurance Policies

  • General Correspondence

  • Internal Audit Reports

  • Internal Reports

  • Petty Cash Vouchers

  • Physical Inventory Tags

  • Savings Bond Registration Records of Employees

  • Time Cards For Hourly Employees

Business Documents To Keep For Six Years

  • Accident Reports, Claims

  • Accounts Payable Ledgers and Schedules

  • Accounts Receivable Ledgers and Schedules

  • Cancelled Checks

  • Cancelled Stock and Bond Certificates

  • Employment Tax Records

  • Expense Analysis and Expense Distribution Schedules

  • Expired Contracts, Leases

  • Expired Option Records

  • Inventories of Products, Materials, Supplies

  • Invoices to Customers

  • Notes Receivable Ledgers, Schedules

  • Payroll Records and Summaries, including payment to pensioners

  • Plant Cost Ledgers

  • Purchasing Department Copies of Purchase Orders

  • Sales Records

  • Subsidiary Ledgers

  • Time Books

  • Travel and Entertainment Records

  • Vouchers for Payments to Vendors, Employees, etc.

  • Voucher Register, Schedules

Business Records To Keep Forever

While federal guidelines do not require you to keep tax records "forever," in many cases there will be other reasons you'll want to retain these documents indefinitely.

  • Audit Reports from CPAs/Accountants

  • Cancelled Checks for Important Payments (especially tax payments)

  • Cash Books, Charts of Accounts

  • Contracts, Leases Currently in Effect

  • Corporate Documents (incorporation, charter, by-laws, etc.)

  • Documents substantiating fixed asset additions

  • Deeds

  • Depreciation Schedules

  • Financial Statements (Year End)

  • General and Private Ledgers, Year End Trial Balances

  • Insurance Records, Current Accident Reports, Claims, Policies

  • Investment Trade Confirmations

  • IRS Revenue Agents. Reports

  • Journals

  • Legal Records, Correspondence and Other Important Matters

  • Minutes Books of Directors and Stockholders

  • Mortgages, Bills of Sale

  • Property Appraisals by Outside Appraisers

  • Property Records

  • Retirement and Pension Records

  • Tax Returns and Worksheets

  • Trademark and Patent Registrations

Personal Documents To Keep For One Year

  • While it's important to keep year-end mutual fund and IRA contribution statements forever, you don't have to save monthly and quarterly statements once the year-end statement has arrived.

Personal Documents To Keep For Three Years

  • Credit Card Statements

  • Medical Bills (in case of insurance disputes)

  • Utility Records

  • Expired Insurance Policies

Personal Documents To Keep For Six Years

  • Supporting Documents For Tax Returns

  • Accident Reports and Claims

  • Medical Bills (if tax-related)

  • Property Records / Improvement Receipts

  • Sales Receipts

  • Wage Garnishments

  • Other Tax-Related Bills

Personal Records To Keep Forever

  • CPA Audit Reports

  • Legal Records

  • Important Correspondence

  • Income Tax Returns

  • Income Tax Payment Checks

  • Investment Trade Confirmations

  • Retirement and Pension Records

Special Circumstances

  • Car Records (keep until the car is sold)

  • Credit Card Receipts (keep until verified on your statement)

  • Insurance Policies (keep for the life of the policy)

  • Mortgages / Deeds / Leases (keep 6 years beyond the agreement)

  • Pay Stubs (keep until reconciled with your W-2)

  • Property Records / improvement receipts (keep until property sold)

  • Sales Receipts (keep for life of the warranty)

  • Stock and Bond Records (keep for 6 years beyond selling)

  • Warranties and Instructions (keep for the life of the product)

  • Other Bills (keep until payment is verified on the next bill)

  • Depreciation Schedules and Other Capital Asset Records (keep for 3 years after the tax life of the asset)

#RecordKeeping #BusinessDocuments #IRS #PersonalDocuments

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