The IRS recommends you keep tax forms and supporting documents a minimum of three years to a maximum of seven years. However, in an era of digital records and identity theft, the IRS, in cooperation with state revenue departments, has recognized the need to better educate individuals and small businesses about ways to securely save these records, whether digitally or in print.
How long you should save records, and why
3 Years | Timeframe that allows you to file amended returns, or if questions arise on your tax return
7 Years | Timeframe that allows filing a claim for adjustment in a case of bad debt deduction or a loss from worthless securities
Saving records digitally
As the IRS requires businesses to file their tax return form via its free eFile system, saving forms and supporting documents you provide the IRS is becoming more-and-more a digital practice. However, the documents you use in preparing taxes (or provide to your preparer) can often be on paper. Whether you are saving tax-related material on paper or digitally, you need to be aware that many of these forms and documents contain the Social Security numbers of you, your spouse and dependents, employees and include income and bank account information. Because of the sensitive data, the loss or theft of these documents could lead to identity theft and have an economic impact.
Follow these steps to better protect tax records you save
- If you retain paper records, you should keep them in a secure location, preferably under lock and key, such as a secure desk drawer or a safe.
- If you retain your records electronically on your computer, you should always have an electronic back-up, in case your hard drive crashes.
- You should encrypt any tax-related files both on your computer and any back-up drives you use.
- You may have to purchase encryption software to ensure security.
Dispose of old tax records properly
- Never toss paper tax returns and supporting documents into the trash.
- Any financial or health records should be shredded before disposal.
- If you ever dispose of an old computer or back-up hard drive, don’t forget there’s sensitive data on them.
- Wipe the drives of any electronic product you trash or sell, including tablets and mobile phones, to ensure you remove all personal data. (This may require special disk utility software.)
Additional IRS Resources
- Security Awareness for Taxpayers (PDF)
- Taxpayer Bill of Rights
- Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft
- Publication 5027: Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers
- Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance (PDF)
- Fact Sheet 2015-23, IRS, States and Industry Partners Provide Update on Collaborative Fight Against Tax-Related Identity Theft
IRS YouTube Videos
- Taxes. Security. Together. – English
And remember: As we always remind you when providing information (even information from the IRS) about taxes, you need to seek the advice of your trusted advisors (like your CPA or tax attorney). Everyone’s situation is unique (for example, state requirements may vary).