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Storing tax records: How long is long enough?
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 underreported 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.
Records such as receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support an item of income or a deduction, or a credit appearing on a return must be kept so long as they may become material in the administration of any internal revenue law, which generally will be until the period of limitation expires for that return. For assessment of tax you owe, this generally is 3 years from the date you filed the return. Returns filed before the due date are treated as filed on the due date.
There is no period of limitations to assess tax when a return is fraudulent or when no return is filed.
If income that you should have reported is not reported, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on the return, the time to assess is 6 years from when the return is filed.
For filing a claim for credit or refund, the period to make the claim generally is 3 years from the date the original return was filed (or the due date for filing the return if the return was filed before that date), or 2 years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.
For filing a claim for an overpayment resulting from a bad debt deduction or a loss from worthless securities, the time to make the claim is 7 years from when the return was due.
In tax years 2014 and later, you should keep records of your own and your family members’ health care insurance coverage, including records of employer provided coverage or premiums paid and type of coverage for private coverage, so you can show that you and your family members had and maintained required minimum essential coverage. If you are claiming the premium tax credit, you will need information about any advance credit payments you received through the Health Insurance Marketplace, the premiums you paid, and the type of coverage you obtained at the Marketplace. If you or any of your family members are exempt from minimum essential coverage, you should retain certificates of exemption you may receive from the Marketplace or any other documentation to support an exemption claimed on your tax return.
If you have employees, you must keep all your employment tax records for at least 4 years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later. For more information, see Publication 15, (Circular E), Employer's Tax Guide.
If you are in business, there is no particular method of bookkeeping you must use. However, you must use a method that clearly and accurately reflects your gross income and expenses. The records should substantiate both your income and expenses. Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records, and Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses, provide additional information on required documentation for taxpayers with business expenses. Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals, provides more information on recordkeeping requirements for individuals.