Colleen E. Harrison, Enrolled Agent
Former IRS Revenue Agent
WHY YOU SHOULD KEEP RECORDS
IRS Publication 552 - Main Content
Table of Contents
Why Keep 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:
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.
Electronic records. All requirements that apply to hard copy books and records also apply to electronic storage systems that maintain tax books and records. When you replace hard copy books and records, you must maintain the electronic storage systems for as long as they are material to the administration of tax law.
An electronic storage system is any system for preparing or keeping your records either by electronic imaging or by transfer to an electronic storage media. The electronic storage system must index, store, preserve, retrieve, and reproduce the electronically stored books and records in a legible, readable format. All electronic storage systems must provide a complete and accurate record of your data that is accessible to the IRS. Electronic storage systems are also subject to the same controls and retention guidelines as those imposed on your original hard copy books and records.
The original hard copy books and records may be destroyed provided that the electronic storage system has been tested to establish that the hard copy books and records are being reproduced in compliance with IRS requirements for an electronic storage system and procedures are established to ensure continued compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. You still have the responsibility of retaining any other books and records that are required to be retained.
The IRS may test your electronic storage system, including the equipment used, indexing methodology, software and retrieval capabilities. This test is not considered an examination and the results must be shared with you. If your electronic storage system meets the requirements mentioned earlier, you will be in compliance. If not, you may be subject to penalties for non-compliance, unless you continue to maintain your original hard copy books and records in a manner that allows you and the IRS to determine your correct tax.
For details on electronic storage system requirements, see Rev. Proc. 97-22, which is on page 9 of Internal Revenue Bulletin 1997-13 at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-irbs/irb97-13.pdf.
Copies of tax returns. You should keep copies of your tax returns as part of your tax records. They can help you prepare future tax returns, and you will need them if you file an amended return. Copies of your returns and other records can be helpful to your survivor or the executor or administrator of your estate.
If necessary, you can request a copy of a return and all attachments (including Form W-2) from the IRS by using Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. There is a charge for a copy of a return. For information on the cost and where to file, see the Form 4506 instructions.
If you just need information from your return, you can order a transcript in one of the following ways.
Income. Your basic records prove the amounts you report as income on your tax return. Your income may include wages, dividends, interest, and partnership or S corporation distributions. Your records also can prove that certain amounts are not taxable, such as tax-exempt interest.
Note. If you receive a Form W-2, keep Copy C until you begin receiving social security benefits. This will help protect your benefits in case there is a question about your work record or earnings in a particular year. Review the information shown on your annual (for workers over age 25) Social Security Statement. Expenses. Your basic records prove the expenses for which you claim a deduction (or credit) on your tax return. Your deductions may include alimony, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, and real estate taxes. You also may have child care expenses for which you can claim a credit.
Home. Your basic records should enable you to determine the basis or adjusted basis of your home. You need this information to determine if you have a gain or loss when you sell your home or to figure depreciation if you use part of your home for business purposes or for rent. Your records should show the purchase price, settlement or closing costs, and the cost of any improvements. They also may show any casualty losses deducted and insurance reimbursements for casualty losses. Your records also should include a copy of Form 2119, Sale of Your Home, if you sold your previous home before May 7, 1997, and postponed tax on the gain from that sale. For information on which settlement or closing costs are included in the basis of your home, see Publication 530, Tax Information for Homeowners. For information on basis, including the basis of property you receive other than by purchase, see Publication 551, Basis of Assets.
When you sell your home, your records should show the sales price and any selling expenses, such as commissions. For information on selling your home, see Publication 523, Selling Your Home.
Investments. Your basic records should enable you to determine your basis in an investment and whether you have a gain or loss when you sell it. Investments include stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Your records should show the purchase price, sales price, and commissions. They may also show any reinvested dividends, stock splits and dividends, load charges, and original issue discount (OID).
For information on stocks and bonds, see Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses. For information on mutual funds, see Publication 564, Mutual Fund Distributions.
Proof of Payment One of your basic records is proof of payment. You should keep these records to support certain amounts shown on your tax return. Proof of payment alone is not proof that the item claimed on your return is allowable. You also should keep other documents that will help prove that the item is allowable. Generally, you prove payment with a cash receipt, financial account statement, credit card statement, canceled check, or substitute check. If you make payments in cash, you should get a dated and signed receipt showing the amount and the reason for the payment. If you make payments by electronic funds transfer, you may be able to prove payment with an account statement.
Table 2. Proof of Payment
IF payment is by...THEN the statement must show the...Cash
Debit or credit card
Electronic funds transfer
Account statements. You may be able to prove payment with a legible financial account statement prepared by your bank or other financial institution. These statements are accepted as proof of payment if they show the items reflected in Table 2.
Pay statements. You may have deductible expenses withheld from your paycheck, such as union dues or medical insurance premiums. You should keep your year-end or final pay statements as proof of payment of these expenses.
Specific RecordsThis section is an alphabetical list of some items that require specific records in addition to your basic records.
Alimony If you receive or pay alimony, you should keep a copy of your written separation agreement or the divorce, separate maintenance, or support decree. If you pay alimony, you also will need to know your former spouse's social security number. For information on alimony, see Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals. Business Use of Your Home You may be able to deduct certain expenses connected with the business use of your home. You should keep records that show the part of your home that you use for business and the expenses related to that use. For information on how to allocate expenses between business and personal use, see Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home. Casualty and Theft Losses To deduct a casualty or theft loss, you must be able to prove that you had a casualty or theft. Your records also must be able to support the amount you claim. For a casualty loss, your records should show:
For a theft loss, your records should show:
For more information, see Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts. For a workbook designed to help you figure your loss, see Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use Property). Child Care Credit You must give the name, address, and taxpayer identification number for all persons or organizations that provide care for your child or dependent. You can use Form W-10, Dependent Care Provider's Identification and Certification, or various other sources to get the information from the care provider. Keep this information with your tax records. For information on the credit, see Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses. Contributions You must keep records to prove the contributions you make during the year. The kinds of records depend on whether the contribution is cash, noncash, or out-of-pocket expenses. For information on contributions and the records you must keep, see Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled If you are under age 65, you must have your physician complete a statement certifying that you were permanently and totally disabled on the date you retired. You do not have to file this statement with your Form 1040 or Form 1040A, but you must keep it for your records.If the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) certifies that you are permanently and totally disabled, you can substitute VA Form 21-0172, Certification of Permanent and Total Disability, for the physician's statement you are required to keep. See Publication 524, Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled, for more information.Education Expenses If you have the records to prove your expenses, you may be entitled to claim certain tax benefits for your education expenses. You may qualify to exclude from income items such as a qualified scholarship, interest on U.S. savings bonds, or reimbursement from your employer. You also may qualify for certain credits or deductions. You should keep documents, such as transcripts or course descriptions, that show periods of enrollment and canceled checks and receipts that verify amounts you spent on tuition, books, and other educational expenses. For information on qualified education expenses, see Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education.Exemptions If you are claiming an exemption for your spouse or a dependent (a qualifying child or a qualifying relative), you must keep records that support the deduction. See the discussion related to exemptions in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information. Employee Business Expenses If you have employee business expenses, see Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses, for a discussion of what records to keep. Energy Incentives. If you want to claim one of the tax incentives for the purchase of energy-efficient products, you must keep records to prove:
The following documents may show this information.
Gambling Winnings and Losses You must keep an accurate diary of your winnings and losses that includes the:
In addition to your diary, you should keep other documents. See the discussion related to gambling losses in Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions, for documents you should keep. Health Savings Account (HSA) and Medical Savings Account (MSA) For each qualified medical expense you pay with a distribution from your HSA or MSA, you must keep a record of the name and address of each person you paid and the amount and date of the payment. For more information, see Publication 969, Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans. Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) Keep copies of the following forms and records until all distributions are made from your IRA(s).
For a worksheet you can use to keep a record of yearly contributions and distributions, see Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). Medical and Dental Expenses In addition to records you keep of regular medical expenses, you should keep records of transportation expenses that are primarily for and essential to medical care. You can record these expenses in a diary. You should record gas and oil expenses directly related to that transportation. If you do not want to keep records of your actual expenses, you can keep a log of the miles you drive your car for medical purposes and use the standard mileage rate. You should also keep records of any parking fees, tolls, taxi fares, and bus fares.
For information on medical expenses and the standard mileage rate, see Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses (Including the Health Coverage Tax Credit). Mortgage Interest If you paid mortgage interest of $600 or more, you should receive Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement. Keep this form and your mortgage statement and loan information in your records. For information on mortgage interest, see Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. Moving Expenses You may be able to deduct qualified moving expenses that are not reimbursed. For more information on what expenses qualify and what records you need, see Publication 521, Moving Expenses. Pensions and Annuities Use the worksheet in your tax return instructions to figure the taxable part of your pension or annuity. Keep a copy of the completed worksheet until you fully recover your contributions.
For information on pensions and annuities, see Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income, or Publication 721, Tax Guide to U.S. Civil Service Retirement Benefits. Taxes Form(s) W-2 and Form(s) 1099-R show state income tax withheld from your wages and pensions. You should keep a copy of these forms to prove the amount of state withholding. If you made estimated state income tax payments, you need to keep a copy of the form or your check(s). You also need to keep copies of your state income tax returns. If you received a refund of state income taxes, the state may send you Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments. Keep mortgage statements, tax assessments, or other documents as records of the real estate and personal property taxes you paid. If you deducted actual state and local general sales taxes instead of using the optional state sales tax tables, you must keep your actual receipts showing general sales taxes paid. Sales Tax on Vehicles You may be able to deduct state and local sales and excise taxes (or certain other taxes or fees in a state without a sales tax) paid in 2010 for the purchase of a new motor vehicle after February 16, 2009, and before January 1, 2010. Keep your purchase contract to show much sales tax you paid. Tips You must keep a daily record to accurately report your tips on your return. You can use Form 4070A, Employee's Daily Record of Tips, which is found in Publication 1244, Employee's Daily Record of Tips and Report to Employer, to record your tips. For information on tips, see Publication 531, Reporting Tip Income.
How Long To Keep Records You must keep your records as long as they may be needed for the administration of any provision of the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, this means you must keep records that support items shown on your return until the period of limitations for that return runs out. The period of limitations is the period of time in which you can amend your return to claim a credit or refund or the IRS can assess additional tax. Table 3 contains the periods of limitations that apply to income tax returns. Unless otherwise stated, the years refer to the period beginning after the return was filed. Returns filed before the due date are treated as being filed on the due date.
Table 3. Period of LimitationsIF you...THEN the
period is...1Owe additional tax and
(2), (3), and (4) do not
apply to you 3 years2Do not report income that
you should and it is more
than 25% of the gross
income shown on your
return 6 years3File a fraudulent returnNo limit4Do not file a returnNo limit5File a claim for credit or
refund after you filed
your return The later of 3 years or 2 years after tax was paid.6File a claim for a loss from
worthless securities 7 years
Property. Keep records relating to property until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the property in a taxable disposition. You must keep these records to figure your basis for computing gain or loss when you sell or otherwise dispose of the property.
Generally, 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. You must keep the records on the old property, as well as the new property, until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the new property in a taxable disposition.
Keeping records for nontax purposes.
When your records are no longer needed for tax purposes, do not discard them until you check to see if they should be kept longer for other purposes. Your insurance company or creditors may require you to keep certain records longer than the IRS does.
How To Get Tax Help You can get help with unresolved tax issues, order free publications and forms, ask tax questions, and get information from the IRS in several ways. By selecting the method that is best for you, you will have quick and easy access to tax help. Contacting your Taxpayer Advocate. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS. We help taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm, such as not being able to provide necessities like housing, transportation, or food; taxpayers who are seeking help in resolving tax problems with the IRS; and those who believe that an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should.
Here are seven things every taxpayer should know about TAS:
<b><i>Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs).</i></b> The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program serves individuals who have a problem with the IRS and whose income is below a certain level. LITCs are independent from the IRS. Most LITCs can provide representation before the IRS or in court on audits, tax collection disputes, and other issues for free or a small fee. If an individual's native language is not English, some clinics can provide multilingual information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities. For more information, see Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List. This publication is available at IRS.gov, by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676), or at your local IRS office.
Free tax services. Publication 910, IRS Guide to Free Tax Services, is your guide to IRS services and resources. Learn about free tax information from the IRS, including publications, services, and education and assistance programs. The publication also has an index of over 100 TeleTax topics (recorded tax information) you can listen to on the telephone. The majority of the information and services listed in this publication are available to you free of charge. If there is a fee associated with a resource or service, it is listed in the publication. Accessible versions of IRS published products are available on request in a variety of alternative formats for people with disabilities.
Free help with your return.1040 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting. 7669 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit AARP's website at www.aarp.org/money/taxaide. VITAhand corner. Internet. You can access the IRS website at IRS.gov 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to:
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