Retention guidelines let you know what you can safely get rid of.
It can be confusing—even scary!—when it comes to getting rid of old tax-related documents. One of the reasons why is because it is hard to know which pieces of paper you’re supposed to keep and which are okay to let go of. Most people err on the side of caution: instead of getting rid of things they keep almost everything, or they keep old files longer than they need to.
How do you know what you need and when you can trash it? The best way to know is by establishing some retention guidelines. Most retention guidelines are dictated by the IRS; their website lists some suggested retention guidelines for common types of documents that can be found in virtually any home or business.
Now that is just as it says—a guideline. This isn’t the final word on what you should or should not keep. I suggest you ask your Tax Preparer or CPA what the specific retention guidelines for your own individual business and life situation are. Some tax preparers say to keep 3 years worth of supporting documents for your taxes, while others will tell you to keep 10. This variation is why it is so important that you consult with the person who is preparing your taxes—not the person who prepares your parent’s taxes or your friend’s taxes or your sister’s or your brother’s or your co-worker’s taxes. Your taxes—because only they completely understand your tax and financial situation.
Once you’ve received a set of retention guidelines from your tax preparer, CPA, or accountant, you can take that retention schedule back to your own file cabinet or your box of papers or stack of papers that might be on your desk and start weeding out whatever is unnecessary or out of date.