Whether the results of this most recent tax season had a positive or negative impact on your bank account, it’s important to consider how long you should retain your tax documents. This includes a copy of your tax return and any documents providing support of income or deduction items, as well as evidence for any credits received. A period of limitations is determined by the IRS based on the time in which you could amend a return to claim a credit or refund, or during which the IRS can assess additional tax.
The general rule of thumb is three years. This means you should retain a copy of your return and supporting documents for that return until three years from the filing due date. For example, you should keep the information regarding the return that was due April 15, 2019 until April 15, 2022, at the very least. Keep in mind, these periods are federal guidelines. States may have their own statute of limitations.
There are a lot of “buts” in tax circumstances. Fittingly, if you claim a bad debt deduction or a loss from worthless securities, retain your records for seven years instead of three. If you have ever filed a fraudulent return, or forgotten to file a tax return, the IRS requires you keep your financial records for your lifetime. Finally, if for some reason, 25 percent of your income was not reported on your tax return, the IRS has up to six years to impose additional tax.
Period of limitations
The IRS has provided the following information on a period of limitations for different scenarios:
- Keep records for 3 years if situations (4), (5), and (6) below do not apply to you.
- 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.
- Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.
- 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.
- Keep records indefinitely if you do not file a return.
- Keep records indefinitely if you file a fraudulent return.
- Keep employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date that the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.
A good scanner has made the electronic retention of these records fairly efficient. However, when disposing of your records and prior tax returns, it’s important to shred any physical documents that may bare identifiable information. Poorly disposed of documents could make you susceptible to identity theft. For electronic information, be sure to have strong security software in place. Keep in mind, that although the IRS may no longer have a use for your records, they could be needed by your insurance company or creditors, in some cases.