Question. I generally feel like I have a handle on the tax document retention guidelines for myself and my family, as individuals. But what are the rules for my business? How long do I need to keep important documents around?
A. Great question, you’re not alone! There are many business owners that are asking this same question. With information coming at us from all angles, it’s easy to accumulate a lot of paper and digital materials. To perform a summer cleanup, follow these retention guidelines.
General rules. Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2015 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. However, some records should be kept longer.
For example, there is no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return. With that in mind, you will generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.
Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.
Some business specifics. Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.
The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.
For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period. Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.
When in doubt, don’t throw it out. If you are unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. We generally recommend consulting with a tax or financial professional before doing any major purges, but use this season as an opportunity to start cleaning things up. It will make all the difference to be more organized when tax time rolls around again.
Crystal Faulkner is Cincinnati market leader with MCM CPAs & Advisors, a CPA and advisory firm offering expert guidance and beyond the bottom line thinking for today’s public and private businesses large and small, not-for-profits, governmental entities and individuals. She also is a licensed EOS implementer working with leadership teams to increase the value of their organizations. Tom Cooney is with Wealth Dimensions, an investment advisory firm. For additional information, call 513-768-6796 or visit online at mcmcpa.com. You can listen to Tom and Crystal daily on WMKV and WLHS on “BusinessWise,” a morning and afternoon radio show that profiles highly successful people, companies, organizations and issues throughout our region.
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