Summer is a great time for cleaning out tax documents

Vicki Weinaug, accountant

As you ‘re doing your annual summer cleaning, you may be asking yourself, “Do I need to keep these tax returns dating back to the 1980’s?  The short answer to that question is no.   So how long do you need to keep old tax documents?  That answer to that question is a little bit more complicated.  As always, the IRS has some good information on their website –

According to the IRS:  “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.”

So what exactly does that mean?  The IRS recommends that you keep your tax returns and any supporting documents for 3 years after the date of filing.  So if you filed your 2013 tax return on April 15th, 2014, you would keep all of your records until April 15th, 2017.  As with any IRS rule, there are exceptions:

1. If you have under reported your income by 25% the IRS can go back 6 years.

  1. If you claim a deduction for worthless securities or a bad debt, keep your records for 7 years.
  2. If you are self-employed, it is recommended that you keep your records for 6 years.
  3. If you have documents connected to assets such as rental property, stocks, bonds, or business assets etc.,   keep those records until 3 years after you dispose of the asset.
  4. Documents for distributions from an IRA should be kept for 7 years.
  5. If you do not file a return or file a fraudulent return, keep your records forever because the IRS can go back indefinitely.

If you still just can’t get yourself to throw out all of those old documents from 1985, there are other options.  In the world of high technology that we live in, you can scan and store your files on your computer as a pdf.  You can also back them up to a flash drive or save them out in “the cloud” or any of the other vast places in cyberspace that you have access to.  Just think of all that shelf/closet/filing cabinet space that you can create by getting rid of all those old documents!