Record Retention Guidelines

The concept of a “paperless” society can frequently be evaluated in terms of the quantitative and qualitative benefits achieved. As the technology of data and storage systems advances, moving toward a paperless environment will become increasingly more important for many business operations.

Regardless of how “paperless” our society will eventually become, there will always be a need to retain certain business and personal records. These records,
whether they are paper, microfiche, or computer disk, will always represent storage and retrieval issues.

When the available storage space overflows, a decision must be made regarding which records to keep and which to destroy or delete. Storing, filing and locating
records, whether paper or electronic, are costly activities for your company, both in dollars and in time. Through proper labeling of all retained records and the implementation of a formal record retention program, you may be able to significantly reduce these costs.


While there are no absolute rules for determining the holding period for many types of records, there are some general guidelines contained in federal and state government publications. In addition, for certain types of records, there are government regulations that mandate a required retention period.

Accounting and Tax Records

You must keep records to support the income, expenses and credits you report on each income tax return until the statutory period of limitations for that return expires. Generally, the IRS can audit a tax return for three years after the date it was due or the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.

However, if there is a major understatement of income, they can audit for six years after the due date (or almost seven years after the tax year). For that reason, you should keep most income tax records for seven years.

Electronic Record Keeping

The IRS has issued guidelines for retaining computerized records. You must be able to produce legible records that reconcile your books and tax returns. Machine sensible records must be readily retrievable and contain sufficient transaction-level detail to identify any source documents. Specific requirements exist for documentation of procedures, file contents and system checks.

Business or Corporate Entity Documents

Corporate documents should be kept indefinitely. These records include articles of incorporation or partnership agreements, bylaws, stock records and board of directors’ minutes.

Personnel Records

All personnel records are required to be kept for the duration of a person’s employment plus a designated period of time after their termination.

Employee Benefit Plan Records

All information needed to verify any aspect of a filing under ERISA must be kept for a period of six years after the date of filing.  The exact records needed will vary from plan to plan but must include the basic information that will verify the accuracy and completeness of all required disclosures and the Annual Report. This includes plan documents, brokerage or trustee statements supporting the investment experience of the plan, payroll and related data to support eligibility, allocations and compliance testing, and participant communications related to terminations, loans or designations of beneficiaries. 

Business Document 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 Document 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)


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