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Record Keeping

Why should I keep records?
Good records will help you monitor the progress of your business, prepare your financial statements, identify source of receipts, keep track of deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns, and support items reported on tax returns.

What kinds of records should I keep?

You may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. Except in a few cases, the law does not require any special kind of records. However, the business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes. Your recordkeeping system should also include a summary of your business transactions. This summary is ordinarily made in your business books (for example, accounting journals and ledgers). Your books must show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. For most small businesses, the business checkbook is the main source for entries in the business books.

Some businesses choose to use electronic accounting software programs to capture and organize their records. In some situations, you will still need to keep original documentation for certain items. The software program you choose should meet the same basic recordkeeping principals mentioned above.

Supporting Business Documents

Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business will generate supporting documents such as invoices and receipts. Supporting documents include sales slips, paid bills, invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and canceled checks. These documents contain the information you need to record in your books. It is important to keep these documents because they support the entries in your books and on your tax return. You should keep them in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. For instance, organize them by year and type of income or expense.

The following are some of the types of records you should keep:

  • Gross receipts are the income you receive from your business. You should keep supporting documents that show the amounts and sources of your gross receipts. Documents for gross receipts include the following:
    • Cash register tapes
    • Bank deposit slips
    • Receipt books
    • Invoices
    • Credit card charge slips
    • Forms 1099-MISC
  • Purchases are the items you buy and resell to customers. If you are a manufacturer or producer, this includes the cost of all raw materials or parts purchased for manufacture into finished products. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and that the amount was for purchases. Documents for purchases include the following:
    • Canceled checks
    • Cash register tape receipts
    • Credit card sales slips
    • Invoices
  • Expenses are the costs you incur (other than purchases) to carry on your business. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and that the amount was for a business expense. Documents for expenses include the following:
    • Canceled checks
    • Cash register tapes
    • Account statements
    • Credit card sales slips
    • Invoices
    • Petty cash slips for small cash payments
  • Travel, Transportation, Entertainment, and Gift Expenses
    If you deduct travel, entertainment, gift or transportation expenses, you must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses.  For additional information on how to prove certain business expenses, refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses.
  • Assets are the property, such as machinery and furniture, that you own and use in your business. You must keep records to verify certain information about your business assets. You need records to compute the annual depreciation and the gain or loss when you sell the assets. Documents for assets include the following:
    • When and how you acquired the assets.
    • Purchase price
    • Cost of any improvements.
    • Section 179 deduction taken.
    • Deductions taken for depreciation.
    • Deductions taken for casualty losses, such as losses resulting from fires or storms.
    • How you used the asset.
      When and how you disposed of the asset.
    • Selling price.
    • Expenses of sale.

    The following documents may show this information.

    • Purchase and sales invoices.
    • Real estate closing statements.
    • Canceled checks.
  • Employment taxes
    There are specific employment tax records you must keep.  Keep all records of employment for at least four years.  For additional information, refer to

How long should I keep records?

The length of time you should keep a document depends on the action, expense, or event the document records. Generally, you must keep your records that support an item of income or deductions on a tax return until the period of limitations for that return runs out.

The period of limitations is the period of time in which you can amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund, or that the IRS can assess additional tax. The below information contains the periods of limitations that apply to income tax returns. Unless otherwise stated, the years refer to the period after the return was filed. Returns filed before the due date are treated as filed on the due date.

Note: Keep copies of your filed tax returns. They help in preparing future tax returns and making computations if you file an amended return.

  1. You owe additional tax and situations (2), (3), and (4), below, do not apply to you; keep records for 3 years.
  2. 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 for 6 years.
  3. You file a fraudulent return; keep records indefinitely.
  4. You do not file a return; keep records indefinitely.
  5. You file a claim for credit or refund* after you file your return; 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.
  6. You file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction; keep records for 7 years.
  7. Keep all employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date that the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

How long should I keep employment tax records?
You must keep all of your records as long as they may be needed; however, keep all records of employment taxes for at least four years.  Keep all records of employment taxes for at least four years after filing the 4th quarter for the year. These should be available for IRS review. Records should include:

  • Your employer identification number.
  • Amounts and dates of all wage, annuity, and pension payments.
  • Amounts of tips reported.
  • The fair market value of in-kind wages paid.
  • Names, addresses, social security numbers, and occupations of employees and recipients.
  • Any employee copies of Form W-2 that were returned to you as undeliverable.
  • Dates of employment.
  • Periods for which employees and recipients were paid while absent due to sickness or injury and the amount and weekly rate of payments you or third-party payers made to them.
  • Copies of employees’ and recipients’ income tax withholding allowance certificates (Forms W-4, W-4P, W-4S, and W-4V).
  • Dates and amounts of tax deposits you made.
  • Copies of returns filed.
  • Records of allocated tips.
  • Records of fringe benefits provided, including substantiation.

How should I record my business transactions?
Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business generate supporting documents. These documents contain information you need to record in your books.  A good recordkeeping system includes a summary of your business transactions.  Business transactions are ordinarily summarized in books called journals and ledgers.  You can buy them at your local stationery or office supply store.

journal is a book where you record each business transaction shown on your supporting documents.  You may have to keep separate journals for transactions that occur frequently.

ledger is a book that contains the totals from all of your journals.  It is organized into different accounts.

Whether you keep journals and ledgers and how you keep them depends on the type of business you are in.  For example, a recordkeeping system for a small business might include the following items.

  • Business checkbook
  • Daily summary of cash receipts
  • Monthly summary of cash receipts
  • Check disbursements journal
  • Depreciation worksheet
  • Employee compensation records

Note: The system you use to record business transactions will be more effective as you follow good recordkeeping practices.  For example, record expenses when they occur, and identify the source of recorded receipts.  Generally, it is best to record transactions on a daily basis.

What is the burden of proof?
The responsibility to prove entries, deductions, and statements made on your tax returns is known as the burden of proof. You must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses to deduct them.