Keeping good records for tax season and beyond – some guidelines
Good recordkeeping is essential for individuals and businesses before, during, and after the tax filing season.
First, the law actually requires taxpayers to retain certain records for a specified number of years, for example tax returns or employment tax records (for employers).
Second, good record is essential for taxpayers while preparing their tax returns. The Tax Code frequently requires taxpayers to substantiate their income and claims for deductions and credits by providing records of various profits, expenses and transactions.
Third, if a taxpayer is ever audited by the IRS, good recordkeeping can facilitate what could be along and invasive process, and it can often mean the difference between a no change and a hefty adjustment. Finally, business taxpayers should maintain good records that will enable them to track the trajectory of their success over the years.
Here you will find a sample list of various types of records it would be wise to retain for tax and other purposes (not an exhaustive list; see this office for further customization to your particular situation):
Marriage licenses or divorce decrees – Among other things, such records are important for determining filing status.
State and federal income tax returns – Tax records should be retained for at least three years, the length of the statute of limitations for audits and amending returns. However, in cases where the IRS determines a substantial understatement of tax or fraud, the statute of limitations is longer or can remain open indefinitely.
Paystubs, Forms W-2 and 1099, Pension Statements, Social Security Statements – These statements are essential for taxpayers determining their earned income on their tax returns. Taxpayers should also cross reference their wage and income reports with their final pay stubs to verify that their employer has reported the correct amount of income to the IRS.
Tip diary or other daily tip record – Taxpayers that receive some of their income from tips should keep a daily record of their tip income. Under the best circumstances, taxpayers would have already accurately reported their tip income to their employers, who would then report that amount to the IRS. However, mistakes can occur, and good recordkeeping can eliminate confusion when tax season arrives.
Military records – Some members of the military are exempt from state and/or federal tax; combat pay is exempt from taxation, as are veteran’s benefits. (In many cases, a record of military service is necessary to obtain veteran’s benefits in the first place.)
Copies of real estate purchase documents – Up to $500,000 of gain from the sale of a personal residence may be excludable from income (generally up to $250,000 if you are single). But if you own a home that sold for an amount that produces a greater amount of gain, or if you own real estate that is not used as your personal residence, you will need these records to prove your tax basis in your home; the greater your basis, the lower the amount of gain that must be recognized.
Individual Retirement Account (IRA) records – Funds contributed to Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs and the earnings thereon receive different tax treatments upon distribution, depending in part on when the distribution was made, what amount of the contributions were tax deferred when made, and other factors that make good recordkeeping desirable.
Investment purchase confirmation records – Long-term capital gains receive more favorable tax treatment than short-term capital gains. In addition, basis (generally the cost of certain investments when purchased) can be subtracted from gain from any sale. For these reasons, taxpayers should keep records of their investment purchase confirmations.
Acknowledgments of charitable donations – Cash contributions to charity cannot be deducted without a bank record, receipt, or other means. Charitable contributions of $250 or more must be substantiated by a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the qualified organization that also meets the IRS requirements.
Cash payments of alimony – Payments of alimony may be deductible from the gross income of the paying spouse . . . if the spouse can substantiate the payments.
Medical records – Disabled taxpayers under the age of 65 should keep a written statement from a qualified physician certifying they were totally disabled on the date of retirement.
Records of medical expenses – Certain unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 10 percent of adjusted gross income may be deductible.
Current health insurance policy – The new health care law requires most individuals to obtain minimum essential health coverage. If your employer has not provided you with records of coverage because you have your own policy, or for some other reason, you should be able to substantiate the amount of your coverage.
Mortgage statements and mortgage insurance – Mortgage interest, premiums paid toward mortgage insurance, and real estate taxes are generally deductible for taxpayers who itemize rather than claim the standard deduction.
Receipts for any improvements to real estate – Part or all of the expense of certain energy efficient real estate improvements can qualify taxpayers for one or more tax credits.
Keeping so many records can be tedious, but come tax season it can result in large tax savings. And in the case of an audit, evidence of good recordkeeping can get you off to a good start with the IRS examiner handling the case, can save time, and can also save money. For more information on recordkeeping for individuals, please contact our offices.
Taxpayers are required by law to keep permanent books of account or records that sufficiently substantiate the amount of gross income, deductions, credits and other amounts reported and claimed on any their tax returns and information returns.
Although, neither the Tax Code nor its regulations specify exactly what kinds of records satisfy the record-keeping requirements, here are a few suggestions:
State and federal income tax returns – These and any supporting documents should be kept for at least the period of limitations for each return. As with individual taxpayers, the limitations period for business tax returns may be extended in the event of a substantial understatement or fraud.
Employment taxes – The Tax Code requires employers to keep all records of employment taxes for at least four years after filing for the 4th quarter for the year. Generally these records would include wage payments and other payroll-related records, the amount of employment taxes withheld, reported tip income, identification information for employees and other payees; employees’ dates of employment; income tax withholding allowance certificates (Forms W-4, for example), fringe benefit payments, and more.
Business income – These would go toward substantiating income, and could include cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, a cash receipts journal, annual financial statements, Forms 1099, and more.
Inventory costs – Businesses should keep records of inventory purchases. For example, if an electronics company purchases a certain number of widgets for resale or a manufacturer purchases a certain number of ball bearings for use in the production of industrial equipment that it manufactures and sells. The costs of these goods, parts, or other materials can be deducted from sales income to significantly reduce tax liability.
Business expenses – Ordinary and necessary expenses for carrying on business, such as the cost of rental office space, are also generally deductable from business income. Such expenses can be substantiated through bank statements, canceled checks, credit card receipts or other such records. The cost of making certain improvements to a business, such as through buying equipment or renovating property, can also be deductible.
Paper records can take up a great deal of storage space, and they are also vulnerable to destruction in fires, floods, earthquakes, or other natural phenomena. Because records are required to substantiate most income, deductions, property values and more—even when they no longer exist—taxpayers (and especially business taxpayers) should digitize their records on an electronic storage system and keep a back-up copy in a secure location.
Business taxation can be extremely complicated, and the requirements for recordkeeping vary greatly depending on the size of the business, the form of organization chosen, and the type of industry in which the business operates. For more details on your specific situation, please call our offices.
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Content provided by CCH. If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.